Energy adviser: Tour shines light on solar

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Julie and Keith Olson already have people stopping by to ask them questions about the 24 photovoltaic panels installed in front of their house on acreage in Camas. So it wasn't a big leap for them to participate in the 2012 Solar Tour on Oct. 6, when perhaps 100 people will check out their solar panels.

The Olsons are happy to talk about their decision to invest $60,000 in the 4.6 kwh solar system. They wanted to cut back on their energy use, and considered a solar water heater and even a wind turbine.

"We had been researching it for several years," Julie Olson said.

They selected 3-foot-square glass-encased solar panels with a 40-year warranty, and had them mounted on the ground. After they installed the panels last summer, they saw their monthly electric bill drop by $100.

"We think it will have paid for itself in about 10 years," she said.

The rapid payback is in large part thanks to state tax credits for installation of photovoltaic modules and electric inverters made in Washington. The tour offers a good opportunity for those considering installing solar panels to learn about the credits, which are due to expire June 30, 2020.

The local event kicks off with a 30-minute information session at 10 a.m. Oct 6 in the Clark Public Utilities Community Room, 1200 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

At the kick-off session, you will learn about what goes into determining the size of a system to get a sense of whether solar will pencil out for you, said tour organizer John Zagunis of Camas, who represents Solar Washington Southwest.

There is no admission fee but attendees will be asked to purchase $5 maps of the eight sites on the tour. Participants visit locations individually; transportation is not provided.

The tour includes houses in Vancouver, Camas, Washougal and Amboy. Attendees are asked to visit Joan Heather's house in Salmon Creek, the seventh stop on the tour, at 1:30 p.m. for a presentation. Heather's house includes a 4.2 kwh solar system, as well as a vegetated living roof. Homes are available to tour until 4 p.m.

The local tour is part of the National Solar Tour, the largest solar energy event in the world. More than 160,000 people are expected to visit approximately 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities. The event is coordinated nationally by the nonprofit American Solar Energy. It's intended to help people find out more about the financial and environmental rewards of capturing energy from the sun and investing in other energy-efficient technology.

Tourgoers will learn about investment incentives that include:

• A $500 rebate from Clark Public Utilities for the installation of a solar water heater.

• A 30 percent federal tax credit for homeowners and businesses, available until 2016.

• State tax credits for photovoltaic modules and electric inverters. The combination adds up to 54 cents per kilowatt hour if produced by the system.

"The state incentives make it possible to do solar today with an eight- to 10-year payback. These systems last at least 25 years," Zagunis said.

Zagunis, a solar-installation contractor and owner of ACT on Solar, is a passionate proponent of solar energy.

"If we are seeking energy, the sun is the best, natural way. We're not using up resources. It's energy efficient. You're not wasting anything," he said. "It's the right thing to do."Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.