Local Chicago residents taking advantage of solar power

Local Chicago residents taking advantage of solar power

David Tavares, a plumbing inspector for the city of Chicago, lives with his young family on the 2500 block of West 114th Street, across from Kennedy Park.

At the close of 2019, he was preparing to flip the switch on a solar power generating system for his one-story bungalow.

The solar panels, which face south and east on his roof, are expected to generate 95 percent of the electricity the Tavares household uses. Surplus electricity generated on sunny, low-energy-use days will yield energy credits that can be banked for future use.

The system will reduce the family’s carbon footprint, but Tavares said concern for the environment was secondary.

“Cost was the main factor for me,” Tavares said. “I was looking at cost savings in the long run.”

The new solar system is expected to save Tavares $32,000 during the next 30 years. It includes photovoltaic panels and an inverter that converts direct current generated by the panels to alternating current, which can be used to power the home or fed back into the power grid.

Tavares is among at least seven homeowners in the 60655 ZIP code opting to install solar interconnects in 2019, according to ComEd. Before 2019, only three homeowners in 60655 had installed solar since 2008.

Likewise, for homes in the 60643 ZIP code, which includes Beverly and Morgan Park, ComEd reported 25 interconnects in 2019 compared to just six in the same area since 2008.

That data indicates an increase in the number of homeowners opting to go solar in ComEd’s service area, which is northeastern Illinois, according to Dan Gabel, director of projects and contract management for ComEd. He reported 8,017 interconnects since 2008 with 66 percent of those completed in 2019.

“We’re definitely seeing increases for residential,” Gabel said. “More than 95 percent of the interconnects were residential installations.”

Nearing the end of 2019, ComEd reported an additional 5,000 applications for interconnects from 2019 waiting to be installed.

Thanks to Illinois Shines, an installation reimbursement program supporting development of residential and community solar projects, Illinois climbed from 41st in the nation for solar installations in 2017 to 21st in September 2019, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The program enables Illinois homeowners to receive an incentive equaling the amount of solar energy expected to be produced over 15 years multiplied by the price set by the Illinois Power Agency.

Homeowners also can receive significant federal income-tax credits—30 percent toward the cost of systems installed in 2019, 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021.

Tavares plans to remain in his home for several years, so it made sense for him to purchase the system, but he could have chosen to lease the system.

Sunrun, the installer that Tavares used, offers either arrangement.

“Regardless of which arrangement a homeowner chooses, the homeowner saves, and their home gains value for resale,” said Matt O’Brien, field sales consultant for Sunrun. “But, property taxes won’t increase as a result of the installation.”

With lease agreements, the company offering the lease owns the equipment and collects the state incentive. With a purchase agreement, O’Brien said, the company passes the state incentive on to the homeowner.

Some installation companies offer 0-percent financing for the first year.

O’Brien, who started working for Sunrun in October of 2018, said those who invest early in solar power will reap the greatest advantages.

“A lot of people talk about the cost of technology going down,” he said, “but the federal income-tax incentives will go away by the end of 2021.”

For best results, Gabel and O’Brien said, homeowners should consider individual needs and property characteristics.

Homes should have ample roof area facing south and unobstructed by buildings or trees.

Because solar systems depreciate in 20 years, it’s best to install a system on a newer roof. The solar installation process requires a roof inspection.

Empty-nesters planning to relocate in the near future may want to hold off, but for newer homeowners opting to stay longer, solar systems can be a good investment.

“At this latitude, solar is a legitimate power source, but it’s important to remember that, under certain conditions, solar power will not generate enough electricity to eliminate reliance on the power grid entirely,” O’Brien said. “Before installing solar, it’s a good idea to find ways to reduce energy use.”

ComEd suggested starting with a home energy audit. Assess thermostat, lighting and heating/cooling efficiency. Consider insulating roofs and fixing leaks around windows or purchasing new windows. Replace incandescent bulbs.

When purchasing a solar system, do the proper homework and understand the installment agreement before signing on the dotted line.

For information about state support for solar installations and to find state-approved installers, visit the website at illinoisshines.com.

ComEd also offers an educational link for calculating cost savings as well at comed.com.

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