Grants, rebates big part of push to go green

Solar power doesn't pencil out when incentives not part of equation

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->AAA Safe Storage solar panels bask under a blazing Arizona sun Thursday.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->AAA Safe Storage solar panels bask under a blazing Arizona sun Thursday.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

KINGMAN - Instead of sitting back and watching their energy bills increase, many companies are installing solar systems in order to take advantage of UniSource Energy Services rebates, federal grants and lucrative investment opportunities.

One of the more recent companies to jump on the "green" bandwagon is AAA Safe Storage and Mini-Mart.

At the company's Stockton Hill Road facility, the Solar Service Center - a California company - finished installation of a $500,000, 97 direct current solar system capable of producing just over 155,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

AAA Safe Storage's general manager Cindi Vincent said the system will help run everything at the facility, including the mini-mart.

The facility consumes approximately 223,000 kwh annually at 13 cents per kwh. That translates into a yearly electric bill of $29,900 and a monthly one of $2,491.

Take that same 13 cents and multiply it by the solar system's annual capabilities, and it comes out to a savings of $20,150 or $1,679 a month. That means Safe Storage will pay about $812 a month for electricity or $9,750 for the year.

Sounds like a strong investment, but at $500,000 for the system it's only a 4 percent return a year, meaning it would take nearly 25 years to recoup the original costs - which is the system's warranty, ironically.

That's where UES's renewable energy rebate and a federal grant (your tax dollars) come into play.

The grant comes from section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009, which says the U.S. Department of Treasury is authorized to make payments to people who install specified energy property provided certain conditions are met.

Solar Service Center's Robert Espinosa said the grant pays 30 percent of a solar system's cost for businesses. There is a 30 percent tax credit for people who install solar systems in their homes as well.

For Safe Storage's system, the grant paid $150,000 of the cost, Espinosa said.

With UES's renewable energy incentives, Safe Storage could either take incremental payments or an up front rebate. Espinosa said the company chose the up front rebate, which came out to $171,400.

After both the rebate and the grant, the solar system's price tag was reduced from half a million dollars to $178,600, Espinosa said.

At that rate, the return on investment is actually 11 percent a year, which means the company can recoup the cost of the system in less than 9 years, Espinosa said.

The full $500,000 can be written off on taxes as well, which can cut the return on investment to just over two years, he said.

The Solar Service Center is relatively new to Mohave County, but Espinosa said solar systems have been installed in several places, including a 20-kilowatt system at The Spot, a Lake Havasu City restaurant.

Espinosa said solar systems for residential buildings, which slice UES electric bills by 20 percent, are available as well. A $20,000 investment can yield a return between 8 and 10 percent, he said.

"It's a way to save money while seeing a return on your investment," Espinosa said. "And it's all based on what you pay for electricity. Solar power produces kilowatt-hours, which is a commodity."

Arizona utility companies must have 15 percent of their energy come from renewable sources by 2015. In 2012, 3.5 percent of UES energy must come from renewable sources. UES spokesperson Joe Salkowski said 30 percent of that will need to be bought from customers who install distributed sources of energy.

The Renewable Energy Standard Tariff surcharge, which is adjusted yearly, reflects that mandate, and as the requirement increases so does the surcharge.

All financial benefits to installing renewable energy systems aside, it reduces the carbon footprint of companies and people. Since oil is used to produce energy, Safe Storage's solar system's carbon footprint shrinkage is equivalent to taking 40 vehicles off the road, Espinosa said.

Safe Storage is in the process of getting another solar system installed at its Harrison Street facility as well, Vincent said. Both spots are perfect, as they had vacant roofs and get lots of sun.

By installing the systems, Safe Storage unit rates should remain stable, Vincent said.