Demand for solar panels picks up on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore |

Demand for solar panels picks up on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore

Claire Cudahy
With a new solar incentive launched by Liberty Utilities, more South Shore residents are considering solar panels.
Courtesy / Tahoe Solar Designs |

More residents on the South Shore are considering solar panels for their homes — and that demand has picked up even more with the launch of one California utility provider’s incentive program.

This July, Liberty Utility announced its first solar incentive program for customers in El Dorado County and the six other California counties it serves.

“The incentive is $1.20 per watt AC, and the total, one-time incentive received is based on the size of the individual customer’s system,” said Travis Johnson, Liberty Utilities’ VP of Electric Operations. “Customers may also be eligible for a federal tax credit of 30 percent of the installation costs.”

After installation, customers are placed on the net meter tariff, which charges for the difference between the amount of energy supplied by Liberty and the energy created by the solar panels.

“If they produce more than they consume for that billing period, then the ‘net’ (or excess) is ‘banked’ (or credited) to their account based on a 12-month billing cycle that is reconciled on an annual basis,” said Johnson.

Leslie Ames of Tahoe Solar Design has been installing solar panels in the Tahoe Basin since 2001.

“It’s increased dramatically. Every year there is more demand. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that every year the prices drop,” Ames said.

The cost of solar energy and solar panels are both on the decline and projected to continue in that direction.

Since the launch of the incentive program, Ames said she’s noticed an uptick in interest. So far this year Tahoe Solar Designs has outfitted around 20 homes with solar panels.

“It’s a long-term investment. I think with the rebate it would pay back in about 10 years. And then after that you’d be making your own free clean energy,” said Ames.

She estimates that the average cost for outfitting a home in South Lake Tahoe is around $20,000 — not including the rebate. This figure could be more or less depending on the size of the home or the overall electricity use.

“We look at their power bill and historical annual usage and try to match that with the expected solar production,” said Ames.

Though Tahoe’s snow-heavy winters might seem like an issue for solar panels, it generally is not a huge impediment.

“If they are covered in snow, they don’t work, but generally speaking, if you have a great location for solar, which would include no shading and not a flat roof, the snow will slide off,” said Ames. “The panels actually work better when it’s cold. The clearer the air, the better they work. On a crisp winter day and with the added reflection of snow, they really work well.”

South Shore residents Molly Hucklebridge Coolidge and Trevor Coolidge live in El Dorado County and are in the process of having solar panels installed on their home.

“We have been following Liberty’s rate proposals and looking for a cost effective option to install solar panels. Power is not getting any cheaper and, with Liberty’s new incentive, the numbers make sense for us,” said Trevor. “We have sized our system to reduce our energy bills by 70 percent over the course of a year.”

“Tahoe has about 250 sunny days a year. It’s ideal for solar,” added Molly.

The Coolidges expect to pay off the system within seven years. It’s just one way the couple is working to “green” their home.

“We want to use renewable resources as much as we can. We installed energy recovery ventilators in combination with radiant floors for indoor air quality,” said Trevor. “We used soy-based spray foam insulation and installed high performance windows. Our house also has a passive solar orientation to distribute heat in the winter and avoid heat in the summer.

“It is important to us to be part of [the] solution and minimize our carbon footprint.”

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