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Merced area begins to embrace solar power

ATWATER — The solar energy industry is exploding like a supernova, say supporters of this alternative.

And Merced County is getting in the loop.

Solar energy consultant Michael Gallahger is looking at about 20 potential projects in the area, with five completed in the past two months.

RECSolar, the San Luis Obispo-based company he works for out of Fresno, is known for creating Costco’s solar designs and installations. But Gallagher works primarily with residential systems.

One large project took place recently at the home of Merced firefighter Brent Boyd, who lives in Atwater with his wife, Donna. Atop their large house now sits 48 square and 18 triangular photovoltaic panels, which convert the sun that shines on them into volts of electricity.

The panels must sit on the roof or ground and face south to absorb the most sunlight.

So, why do this to your home?

Cutting energy costs is a big reason, Boyd said. His family ran up the bills with heating and air conditioning. When they moved into their new place in Atwater about a year ago, he went online to research the best alternatives.

“If you use a lot of power, go with something like this,” he said.

The state and Pacific Gas & Electric supports the decision to go solar.

The California Solar Initiative, signed into law in 2006, gives rebates and discounts to those who use this alternative. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to create 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017.

The goal, Gallahger said, is to clean up the environment. Solar power doesn’t burn fossil fuels to generate power, so it reduces carbon dioxide emissions. It also decreases levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution that emits from other forms of energy production, according to California Solar Initiative literature.

“We’re offsetting the carbon footprint,” Gallagher said. “Promoting renewable energy.”

So, why isn’t everyone doing it? An easy answer — the initial costs are high.

Boyd said his 7 kilowatt system cost him about $43,000 to set up. But he hopes to save about $2,500 a year on his power bill.

Prices are customized per home, and Boyd’s is a bit bigger than the average, Gallahger said. A typical 5 to 6 kilowatt system would cost about $27,000 to $33,000 initially, he estimated.

This cost includes a $9,000 rebate from the state. And then there’s an additional incentive of about $2,000.

Within about 10 years, the money people save from their solar power systems can cover what they paid to set it up, Gallahger said. But you have to be in a financial position to handle those initial costs.

That’s why anyone considering this option should take the time to do it right.

“Take information you collect from the Internet with a grain of salt,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Get experienced contractors — do background checks through the Better Business Bureau and the Contractors State License Board. Always ask for references.

“It can be overwhelming,” Gallahger said. “Do your research, talk to people who have had it done before. And if you can afford it — great.”

To find out more about solar energy visit www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov. For more about RECSolar’s solar power systems, visit www.recsolar.com or call (888)OKSOLAR.

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