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Solar Panels Eliminating Some North Texans' Electricity Bills Entirely

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - As the sun shines on Tracy Wallace's home in Dallas, she knows the solar panels on the roof are soaking up its energy.

"We're happy to be part of the solution," said Tracy.

She and her husband, Mark McCollom, are also happy about the money they save. They had a 10.1-kilowatt solar panel system installed on their roof in 2019, and said they receive negative energy bills more often than not.

"It's really fun to get a negative energy bill. It's just fun to see that come through," said Tracy.

"We had a bill even in January where our bill was -$11 and that's a great way to start the year," said Mark.

According to a government report, Texas was the country's second largest producer of solar energy in 2020, after California, and the Lone Star state is on track to be number one in the next five years.

"We all think about Texas as the land of oil and gas. But Texas is by far the number one wind energy installed state anywhere in the country, and solar is catching up very, very rapidly," said Dr. Le Xie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M. He noted that the renewable energy potential in Texas is so great, it's bringing billions of dollars in investment to the state.

And being able to harness the energy from the state's abundant natural resources could go a long way in preventing an event like the one we experienced in February, where energy demand on the grid was so high and supply so low, many were left without power for days.

"Once you put up the solar panel on top of your house, you are sort of combining consumption sources from the panel itself, as well as the grid", said Xie. "Think about the grid as this big buffer. The sun is shining and producing lots of electricity. The majority of the household electricity will be coming from the solar power. That's good news to you because that means you are consuming less energy from the grid."

But the upfront cost of installing a solar panel system on your home is not cheap. A 5-kilowatt system, meaning the panels can generate up to 5-kilowatts of energy per hour, could cost between $10,000-$15,000, according to Dr. Xie. And the payback time could be up to twelve years, depending on your household energy consumption. A 10-kilowatt system, like what Tracy and Mark installed back in 2019, would likely run you closer to $30,000. But depending on the size of your home and your family's overall energy usage, the larger system would be more likely to completely offset your energy bill.

There is a 26% federal income tax credit for installing solar panels on your home and depending on where you live there could be local tax credits, as well. There are also ways to finance a system, such as leasing and lease-purchase agreements. The upside of this, according to McCollom, is you can get a solar panel system for very little to no cash down. But he stressed there are several things to consider if you're thinking of going down this path, including:

- You don't own the system

- You don't get the federal income tax credit (the owner/company does)

- It could complicate selling your home

The energy generated by the solar panels can certainly reduce the stress overall on the energy grid. But if you're wondering whether the panels can power your home through a blackout, the answer is yes…if you have battery storage. And Tracy said that's next for her and Mark on their journey to energy independence. "Now that we see how vulnerable the grid is, that's going to be our next purchase is a battery," she said.

There are several different types of battery storage available for solar panel systems, but the one you would need to insure your home could stay powered even after a grid failure is called a hybrid or multi-mode battery system. Mark said this type of battery storage will double the price of your overall install.

After installing their solar panel system in 2019, Mark and Tracy started their own solar installation company in 2020. They are strong advocates for solar energy, but both agreed that it's not something to go into lightly.

"You've got to get the permit from the city. You've got to get permission to operate from the utility. You've got to get the inspections and then you have to get your HOA approval, so it can take several months to go through all of that," said Mark. But once you've done the leg work, he said the actual install can be done in as quick as one day.

Here are a few other things you might be asking yourself if you're considering installing solar on your home.

How do the panels hold up if severe weather hits, like hail? The panels are incredibly durable, according to Mark. He said they would have to be insured through your homeowner's insurance anyway though, so if there was damage, they'd be covered by your policy.

What kind of restrictions can your HOA impose if you want to install panels? In the state of Texas, an HOA cannot legally prohibit a homeowner from installing panels on their property. However, HOAs can limit where and how the system is installed. The placement of these panels on your home is incredibly important to getting the maximum energy out of the system though (think sun angle and taking advantage of the most direct sunlight). So, the law in Texas does stipulate that if an HOAs location request will hinder your energy production by more than 10%, you can override the request and continue with your original design plan.

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about whether a residential solar panel system is the right investment for you. But just based on the growth we've seen in the last decade or so, and the growth expected to come in the next five years, many believe that solar's potential is a pretty bright idea.

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