There is no better time to go solar

By Observer Upload May 07, 2013 07:54 am

By Dave Felley

These days it seems every time you open the paper there are stories about energy problems — nationally, it’s our reliance on foreign supplies, oil spills or climate change. Closer to home there is Idaho Power’s proposed Boardman-Hemingway transmission line, coal plant mercury and acid emissions and, of course, Antelope Ridge. Finally, the increasing costs of energy directly affect us in our homes and businesses.

There is an alternative. Today, right here in Northeast Oregon we have the means and know-how to move away from these technologies of the last century. By distributing our energy production to where we use energy — our homes, schools and workplaces — we can cut the increased demand that drives new power lines, pipelines and wind farms. Solar electricity and solar hot water are all mature technologies that we can use to stabilize energy costs, reduce environmental impacts and create jobs. 

In 2007, after several years of research, our family installed a residential solar hot water system, at a cost of $4,600 (plus beer for the work party). After an Oregon State tax credit of $1,500 and a federal tax credit of $1,381, the system cost $1,719. With zero maintenance since then, we get free hot water for six to eight months of the year, an estimated savings of 3,300 kWh, or around $230 at current rates. The more we use, the more we save — and now our kids are teenagers.

In 2010, we bought a photo-voltaic solar electricity system, or pv array and had it installed on our roof. It cost $13,196. After an Oregon State tax credit of $6,000, a federal tax credit of $3,960 and $500 cash from OTEC, the system cost $2,736. This system produces about 3,000 kWh, saving us around $210 annually at current rates. Since it is attached to OTEC’s lines, we get paid by the power company if we generate more than we use. 

Again, there has been no maintenance need, and there is the fringe benefit that it shades our roof in the summer, keeping the house cooler. 

Energy rates change unpredictably, but the one sure thing is that rates will not go down over the long term. Historically, we have benefited from cheap hydropower, but those days are over. Power from the dams is fully subscribed, and power from the open market is much more expensive. Currently, OTEC does not know how it will distribute the increased costs of new demand. Renewables are a great hedge against these risks. 

There has never been a better time to solarize your house. The technology is mature. Estimated payback time for solar installed today will only shrink as energy costs rise. Current tax incentives bring costs down significantly, but they may not be here forever. To help Union County citizens take advantage of these facts, Oregon Rural Action started Solarize Union County. Solarize Union County is a local community effort to bring the cost of installing solar down further with bulk purchase. If you have ever thought about going solar, there are great resources in Union County right now to get more information. 

Attend the upcoming Solarize Info-session at Mount Emily Alehouse at 6 p.m. Wednesday. You can get all your questions answered by the experts and sign up for a free site evaluation of your home or business. For more information or sign up for a site evaluation, visit Oregon Rural Action’s office at 1119 Washington Ave in La Grande, call 541-975-2411 or visit the website at 

About the author: 

Dave Felley is a retired wildlife biologist, lifelong conservationist and board member of Oregon Rural Action. He has been researching and actively promoting renewable energy and energy conservation for the last 15 years.