Solar Panels Bring Income to Seniors

Apr 10, 2013

Some retirees in Las Cruces have been installing solar panels to keep from having to pay a power bill while at the same time, improving the environment in their opinion. Joe Bell has been showing off his new solar panels to the neighbors.

“We had a little backyard party to celebrate putting the panels up.

But for the first time, he climbed on his roof and saw the panels with his own eyes. They may not be very pretty to look at, but to Joe, they’re beautiful.

For him, they mean getting around $50 a month back from El Paso electric. “The most notable thing on it is that it says credit balance.”

His solar panels generate more electricity than he uses, so El Paso Electric pays him for what can be sent into the power grid. It’s called net metering.

And for Joe, he was able to do it without up front costs because of federal incentives.

Like a lot of Las Cruceans, he’s a retired veteran on a fixed income.

“I like to call it enough to live in genteel poverty.”

His panels were about 20 thousand dollars, but with a combined 40 percent state and federal tax credit, he could roll the rest into his mortgage.

His electric meter rolls backwards, but it’s a step forward in the way these units are financed. Now, there’s an incentive to increase performance.

Cary Lane owns Energy Concepts, one of the local companies that install the systems.  He went to NMSU to study solar technology almost before you could study it. “So I actually went to school to do solar and I was looking for all the classes we could and I was kind of pushing on that looking for solar classes and helping the instructors with it.

You heard right – he helped his instructors. It was the late 1980s and nmsu was just getting started with solar. The department of energy funded the research at first.

“And so we got to test all the new products…and see which worked and what didn’t.”

When it didn’t they could tell the manufacturers to “do this better.”   

The panels eventually became more reliable and cheaper, while the technology didn’t change too much. The challenges are the same as they have been.

“People wanna shade their houses it’s so hot here…and you don’t wanna take the shade away because that’s what’s keeping your house cool.”

But changing the financing made a big difference. With net metering, companies like energy concepts had an incentive to build for quality.

Individuals can check with local solar installers and take a look at their taxes, but a good rule of thumb is the panels may be a good idea for anyone planning to stay in the same house at least 5 years. But Joe had another idea in mind when he put his up.

Lots of people say you’ll never recover your investment on the solar panels and my answer to that is, so what? Every day I’m making electricity with no carbon footprint and that makes me happy.