New Castle News

March 7, 2014

Local couple credits low electric bills to solar panels

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Unlike some county residents, Bob and Mary Ann Reiter chuckle when they get their electric bill.

“Amount Due — $0.00” said their Jan. 30 bill, because the Hickory Township residents had a $137.22 credit.

In February, the credit was $125.63.

Their conversion to solar energy just before Thanksgiving has virtually eliminated their electric bills, which used to run over $300 a month.

Even with the sub-zero weather in the last two months, they are generating more electricity than they need for their all-electric home.

In the backyard they have 39 southern-facing panels, which take up a 10-by-70-foot space.

“We put it in at a bad time,” Reiter said, noting November days are short and cloudy.

Even so, the bill for the transitional period was only $90.36. Now, in mid-winter, they are getting credits on their bill.

“Imagine what will happen in June and July,” he said.

When Reiter had the system installed, friends and family “said I was nuts,” he recalled.

Now, several of them are considering installing a system of their own.

Reiter got involved in solar energy by accident. He was at the Canfield Fair in 2012, looking for a cool place to wait while his granddaughter had a pony ride.

He found himself being cooled by a solar-powered fan in the tent of Greg Courtney of Alliance, who operates Wind Turbines of Ohio.

Reiter inquired about wind turbine energy, but Courtney told him wind-driven systems cost twice what solar does.

To power 80 percent of the Reiters’ electric needs, Courtney suggested a solar system costing about $24,000. But Reiter wanted to power 100 percent. For that, he paid $36,865. He expects the system to pay for itself in less than 10 years.

The panels are 100 percent guaranteed for 25 years and Reiter said he has been told they can last 40 or 50 years. He said he views it as a legacy he is leaving his family.

And they don’t take much maintenance. He uses a swimming pool brush to remove snow when necessary and that’s it.

The system is hooked directly into Penn Power and regulated by a “bi-directional meter.”

When the panels are producing extra electricity, it is sold to Penn Power at 3 cents per kilowatt hour. Or it can be put into a program that is like a bank account in which Reiter can save those kilowatt hours for use another time or designate them for use by others.

Courtney said solar energy panels are available from various suppliers and in different sizes.

For example, a nine-panel system costs about $10,000.

He said the price of solar panels has dropped significantly as the result of dumping of Chinese manufactured solar panels subsidized by the Chinese government into the American market in 2012.

He said that since then, President Obama has placed a tariff on the panels, but the low price has been maintained.

He estimated it takes seven years for a homeowner to recoup the investment in the panels.

Courtney noted the federal government provides a 30 percent investment tax credit for the purchase price of the system.

Solar energy system owners also can sell carbon credits to utilities and business under government mandate to reduce their carbon fooprint.