Solar roofs the 'BEST' choice

Roseville Electric incentive program encourages developers to install solar roofs
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Four years ago, a measly 125 Roseville Electric customers utilized solar energy. That was before homeowners and businesses felt the weight of the economic downturn and the subsequent pinch on their pocketbooks. That was also before a new era of environmental responsibility ushered green building into the mainstream. Now, 1,007 Roseville Electric customers, out of about 50,000, use the sun as their home or business’s energy source. The publicly owned utility credits its award-winning and innovative Blueprint for Efficiency and Solar Technology (BEST) Homes program for the dramatic increase of solar generation installations. The amount of energy that can be generated from those systems is equivalent to the annual power use of a big box retailer, mall anchor store or the electricity use of 300 homes, according to a press release issued by Roseville Electric. Resident Connie Davis is one of those solar customers. She moved to her 1,900-square-foot house in May, in part to downsize and leave behind what she calls the steep rates of Pacific Gas & Electric territory. “(The solar roofs) was one of the reasons that took me to the area,” Davis said. “I wanted an energy-efficient home that would be long term and take me into the future, and be more affordable.” At her old house, the monthly electric bill ran between $600 and $800 a month, she said, which marks a stark contrast from her life with solar. “It’s been very positive,” Davis said. “There’s no maintenance. My bills have been literally anywhere between $20 and $47 a month.” This may sound like a good deal to non solar-using residents whose Roseville Electric rates increased another 6.2 percent Jan. 1. But relying on the sun isn’t inexpensive either. Buying and installing a residential rooftop photovoltaic system can cost between $20,000 and $50,000. Some residents, such as Davis, didn’t have to worry about the upfront cost and effort of buying a solar system. Instead, they bought a house with the technology already in place. In 2006, Roseville Electric began BEST Homes to encourage builders to integrate highly energy-efficient measures and rooftop solar generation into new home construction to help reduce the utility’s peak load demand, which is especially important during sizzling summer months. In the past four years, 875 homes have been built with solar roofs. “We’re very pleased with the success of the program,” said Roseville Electric Director Michelle Bertolino. “The response to BEST Homes exceeded our expectations.” Through the program, developers can now receive up to $4,000 in rebates toward new home construction for each dwelling unit that has solar and high energy-efficient measures built into the home. Despite the housing-market shift in the four years since BEST Homes started, builders continue to show interest with three developers — Lennar, Elliott Homes and Centex Homes — currently participating. These homebuilders anticipate building about 1,200 new solar homes in Roseville through 2016. Lennar and Centex primarily have homes in the west part of town while most Elliott Homes reside in the east area. Davis, as an employee of Elliott Homes, knew exactly where to look when she decided to buy a new home — units built by her company. Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, lives in an Elliott home in the Stoneridge development. She said her highest electric bill over the summer was $20. She and her husband sell the excess solar energy their system generates back to the power grid. Sometimes the couple pays only a few dollars a month. Their highest bill in the eight months they’ve lived in the 2,000-square-foot house was $46. Here’s how it works: A solar or photovoltaic device, made of silicon, takes the sun’s rays and coverts them into a form of electricity. The power passes through the panel to an inverter — basically, a box located in a garage or the side of a house — that converts power to an alternating current that flows into the house. If the solar panel produces more electricity than the house requires, that excess power pumps back into the electric grid, which benefits the customer, said David Bradford, program manager of BEST Homes. “This actually spins the meter backwards,” he said. “This is beneficial to (Roseville Electric) because the system produces most during the highest-demand portion of the day.” About 40 percent of the utility’s power comes from its natural-gas power plant. A sizeable amount comes from renewable energy, such as wind power, and the rest is a mix of mostly hydroelectric, with some geothermal and fossil fuels. Roseville Electric wants even more solar in its portfolio. Bob Garrison, director of the Roseville Utility Exploration Center, said solar power is one of many important green-building options that homeowners and businesses should use. “In addition to saving residents time, money and energy, it’s efficiency improvements like these that help protect our planet’s natural resources,” Garrison said. Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- Buildings in the United States: · Account for 38 percent of all carbon-dioxide emissions · Account for 49 percent of sulfur-dioxide emissions · Account for 25 percent of nitrous-oxide emissions · Account for 10 percent of particulate emissions · Use one-third of all energy consumed · Use two-thirds of all electricity consumed Source: U.S. Green Building Council