Solar – explained

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Harnessing energy from the sun to power our lives is now mainstream, especially in a place like Taos, where the sun shines 300-plus days a year.

Drive around the county and you’ll undoubtedly see more solar panels than ever before: on rooftops, in backyards and atop open land.

These panels catch sunlight and convert it from DC to AC current. That’s our electricity. If sized and positioned correctly, they can produce a surplus to sell back to Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s grid.

Is my house set up for solar?

Most solar panels in the Taos area go on the roof, and flat roofs predominate. Standard 5 by 3-foot panels weigh about 40 pounds. Compass orientation, shading, roof slope and stability, and aesthetics all factor in. Installers like to avoid screwing or bolting into a roof for fear of leaks, so if the roof is flat enough, panels sit “ballast-racked” in a tray held down by weights. Sloped roofs have other racking options; some may require anchoring into the roof itself.

If the roof can’t handle it because of age, configuration or shade, technicians look to the ground. Anchoring costs are higher, but it’s easier to more precisely orient panels toward the sun to increase the capacity to capture energy.

How much does it cost to install?

Both companies spent considerable time analyzing a homeowner’s historic electric usage to fit a system designed to produce more electricity than they’ve been using before. 

Upfront costs are in the $10,000-15,000 range to purchase and install panels, and hook up the home to the grid. Ground mount costs more. 

A federal tax credit allows you to take 30 percent of that cost off your income taxes (that percentage is set to drop in the coming years), and Taos County waives its 8.5 percent gross receipts tax. There’s a possibility that the state will grant a 10 percent tax cut in the future. The project cost can be financed as both companies tout ties with local financial institutions.

How are my panels hooked into the grid? 

You are already using electricity off the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative grid, so those lines and meters are in place. Now you are connecting panels to them so that you can return power you don’t need. It’s known as “spinning the meter backwards,” and it’s the heart of the solar advantage. 

The homeowner signs an “interconnect agreement” with Kit Carson. Technicians make sure the existing system can handle the amperage of the “back feed” from the panels. During sunny days, you will power your own home and put energy back onto the grid. When the sun goes down or the clouds come over, Kit Carson takes over with electricity from the grid, producing an ebb and flow of electrons to homes that is designed to be as seamless as possible.

How does it save me money?

It’s called “net metering.” On your monthly bill, you only owe per kilowatt-hour taken from the grid. You get a kWh credit for all power put back onto the grid. Take away any loan payments, and you’ll get a true net savings. 

If you have a business, you may be able to depreciate the cost of panels. The return on investment is generally pegged around 9 percent.

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