Bibb County is investing in solar energy panels. Some people asked whether that's a good investment and whether solar panels are a good buy for individual home owners.
13WMAZ set out to verify the facts about what it costs and how effective it really is at saving you money.
Free sunshine to free energy, that's sometimes the pitch with solar.
Stephen Davison installed solar at his home in 2000. He spent $200,000 on his project, that’s several times the usual average.
Normally, home solar systems cost between $25-35,000, according to Flint Energies.
Davison says he saves about 60 percent off his monthly energy bill. Typically, that's hundreds of dollars a month.
He says to invest in solar, you have to know what you're doing.
“Obviously, nobody's going to go into that, something like this without doing a lot of research. And I did. I grew up overseas with no TV, I read way too much. I did an exhaustive amount of research on it and you go in there knowing when the payoff is, what it's going to cost,” Davison said.
Davison says he finally broke even on his investment in the past year or so, nearly 15 years after the original purchase.
Davison also sees solar panels at his workplace. Clean Control Corporation installed solar panels in coordination with Flint Energies. Davison is President at Clean Control Corp.
The system cost $400,000 to install and can produce 150 kilowatts. But, it has already been paid for. There was a 100% rebate in place at the time of the deal, so within six months it had already been paid off. The plant is currently selling back the energy from the solar panels to Flint. That agreement was put in place for 10 years when the panels were installed in 2013.
Raymond McLeod has had solar at his house since 2008. He saves about half his monthly energy bill and heats his water with solar panels on the roof.
McLeod spent $40,000 on his system. Tax rebates gave him back about $15,000. His energy bill savings returned another $15,000. He still has not recouped around $10,000 off the original investment.
Along with the $10,000, McLeod says he's had trouble trying to sell his home.
He told 13 WMAZ Georgia realtors will not include the solar equipment in their home appraisals and that means it's unlikely he can get a home buyer to cover his costs.
Over at Flint Energies, Jimmy Autry says he's not surprised.
“The ones who shared numbers with us? No, I haven't seen anybody who has. Certainly because they've all been in probably less than five years. But I haven't seen anyone who's come to a break-even point,” Autry explained.
Autry described three ideas he often hears from customers considering solar panels for their homes.
He says people think it will save them money immediately, that they can store power for when it's dark or cloudy, and that going solar will get rid of their energy bills.
All of those are misconceptions, according to Autry. He says home battery packs to store solar energy have not been perfected yet and the ones available, now cost thousands of dollars. He also says people who use solar still have to stay connected to Flint or other energy companies in case they need a backup. That means customers still get an energy bill, even if they have solar at their home.
However, using solar at your home does lower energy bills. Autry says the average Flint monthly bill is around $160.00. Homes using solar power often receive a lower bill, but that can fluctuate with weather conditions and how much energy has been used.
Autry says it does make sense for utility companies or individuals to invest in large quantities of solar energy. That’s because a large solar plant can produce cheaper power than a single home system.
Flint Energies' recently entered a 15 megawatt purchase power agreement with a solar farm in Taylor County.
But for now, Autry says investing in solar at home is more about being green than saving money.
“They've made their decisions based on if it's the right thing to do, I want to be green. It wasn't about, 'I'm going to save money,” he explained in his office.
Installing solar panels at your house should save on monthly energy bills. But, probably not enough to cover the system's cost quickly. Davison and McLeod said tax rebates made it more affordable and helped with costs.
Bibb County's solar system is coming at no cost to the county. County officials entered into an agreement with Cherry Street Capital that will pay for the cost of installation and operation. That means the technology comes at no cost to the County.
Bibb County is entering a 20-year purchase power agreement. That means they'll pay $0.12 per kilowatt hour, which they say is lower than the Georgia Power average.
But, Autry and Davison agree, if you're going to spend the money at home, make sure you verify it's worth it.