'Show Me Solar 2008' to emphasize alternative energy tax incentives

Thursday, October 16, 2008 | 5:11 p.m. CDT; updated 8:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — For households looking to trim monthly utility bills, going solar will be even more economically viable as of Jan 1. 

The $700 billion economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress extended and revamped several established alternative energy tax credits.

Specifically, the bill extends federal solar tax incentives, set to expire in December, for another eight years. The legislation also removed the previous credit cap of  $2,000 for solar electric investments, favoring an overall 30 percent tax relief with no credit cap.

“The economics of solar just got that much more attractive,” Neal Lurie, director of marketing and communications for the American Solar Energy Society, said. 

The economics and benefits of solar energy will be the focus of Saturday’s “Show Me Solar 2008” hosted by the Columbia Climate Change Coalition in conjunction with the American Solar Energy Society. The tour will visit businesses, churches and homes that have incorporated passive or active solar systems into their energy infrastructures, said Monta Welch, executive director for the Climate Change Coalition.

Claire Garden of Columbia will open her house to visitors as part of the tour. Installed in August, her 2 kilowatt an hour system consists of 10 solar panels interconnected with Columbia’s electrical grid. 

This connection allows excess energy produced by Garden’s solar panels to feed into the city's energy grid, becoming an account credit. In the winter, when she expects her panels to produce much less, Garden can use her previous credits from the grid to help power her house. 

Although she will not see her federal tax reimbursement for quite some time, the benefits of her newly installed system have already become obvious.

“We’ve only had a month and half experience with the bills, but they were lower,” Garden said.   
Tax incentives and lower utility bills are alluring, but it could take time before homeowner’s see a return on their investment.

“In some states, the payback period is six to eight years, whereas in other states, without state incentives, the payback period could be longer,” Lurie said.  “If the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise, the payback period could come even faster.”

Both Garden and Lurie think solar energy will be vital to the nation’s clean energy future and also in the creation of “green” jobs.

“We’ve consistently seen a 40 percent growth in the solar industry every year since 2001,” Lurie said.