Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Solar panels. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Six or seven years ago, when solar panels were quite a bit more expensive than they are now, neighborhood resident Greg Homan took a leap of faith.

At the time, Dallasites were paying roughly 14 or 15 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity. At that price, he calculated his $42,000 investment in the panels would take six or seven years to recover.

“With energy prices, you would think they would rise over time,” Homan says. “Guess what? Energy got cheaper.”

The explosion of natural gas has driven energy prices down to more like 10 cents per kWh. Still, Homan says, “it’s a lot nicer to pay only $150 in the middle of the summer than it was paying $450.”

It helps that he participates in retail electric provider Reliant’s energy buy back program. Whatever energy created by the solar panels on Homan’s house is first used to power his home. When his home isn’t using all of the solar energy created, “the outflow goes back onto the grid,” he says. “Maybe my neighbor uses it.” Reliant tracks and credits him for that surplus energy.

And there are the added environmental benefits, he says. His mother, Katherine, certainly had an influence on him in this regard. She lives in Oak Cliff, in a house recognized as the first “green”-built home in the City of Dallas.

Taking care of the environment played a large part in Homan’s decision to install the panels, but “I’m not that good-hearted enough yet to do this without having some incentive from the financial side,” he says.

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A federal stimulus program at the time offered a 30 percent rebate for solar panels, plus Oncor was offering a certain number of dollars per watt, he says.

The system he installs can produce up to 6,900 watts, or almost 7 kilowatts, of solar energy at a time. Homan bought quite a bit of the system on his own, searching the internet for inverters and clamps, and purchasing 30 of the panels at a discount online. They are on the back of his roof, which faces south.

“From the street you really can’t see them well. Only two neighbors can see them,” Homan says. “They’re not ugly. We tried to make themaesthetically pleasing.”

His roof is at “an almost perfect angle” to maximize solar energy production year-round, he says. That’s crucial for anyone interested in solar energy, he says. Plus, “if you’ve got big trees around, you can’t do it,” he says.

Homan also “read a huge book on how to do a energy audit” of his house before the installation.

“The solar installer I worked with said, ‘Look it’s cheaper to solve all of your other energy problems before you put in solar,’ ” Homan says.

He already had a metal roof, which is “supposedly the best roof surface to reflect the sun,” he says. He spent time filling in pipes around his sinks, replacing older lightbulbs with LEDs, and putting electrical devices in his house

on surge protectors “to ‘really’ turn them off,” he says. “They would just trickle electricity out,” while plugged in.

He also replaced his older pool pump with a variable speed pump that is “super, super efficient,” he says.

The energy audit, combined with the solar panels, worked in tandem to drastically lower his electricity bills. The biggest factor now is air-conditioning, Homan says. If it’s running, he’s paying for electricity. If not, it’s more

likely that Reliant is paying him. While his bill is roughly $150 a month in the summer, it drops to about $50 a month in the winter.

“I would have saved more if energy prices were higher,” Homan says. “I hedged, and I’m happy that I’m not paying a lot, but I’m not saving as much as I could have been saving if we haven’t discovered a bunch of natural gas all over the place.”

“I’ve been more or less looking at my electric bill saying, ‘Yes, $150 a month is less than $450,’ ” Homan says.

And that’s enough to make the whole thing worth it, he says.

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