From my weekly green tips:

Image of solar panels being installed

It’s been a whole year since my roof became the source of our home’s electricity. Each month we monitored our production, and received notices (not bills) of our monthly usage. It wasn’t until the annual true up, that you really find out how much you’ll end up paying for your year’s electricity. At the end of the year, your two-way meter gets read – how much juice flowed in, minus how much flowed out.

Thought I’d review the numbers here to convince you.

Installation details: January 2009 – connection of the installed 3.2 KW system – 16 Evergreen panels taking up a little over 250 square feet of roof space.

Installation cost: Just North of $18,000 minus $5500 tax credit (30%) – leaves me just under $13,000 out of pocket.
First year production: Estimated to be 4000 kWh, but in fact we produced 5000 kWh.

First year electricity usage: With some big efficiency improvements, we cut our electricity use to about 580 kWh/month.

First year electric bill: Less than 7000 kWh consumed, minus the 5000 kWh produced – we ended the year buying about 1900 kWh from PG&E for a monthly bill of about $18.60, $223 for the year!

Return on Investment: My electricity costs for 2008 were $1886, so in my first solar year, 2009, I saved over $1650 in electricity costs – almost 13% of the cost of the system in the first year. Some of that savings is due to efficiency improvements, granted; however, I’m convinced that we are being more efficient because of the constant data source telling us how much we are using and generating.

My return on investment will improve with the latest utility news announced in December: PG&E has requested a rate increase that would take effect in 2011. How much? If you use 550 kWh/month, you’ll see a 3% increase in costs. If you use 850 kWh/month, you’ll see an increase of over 10%. (The difference is due to the tiered rate structure of utility bills – the more you use, the higher the cost.)

The tax credit I mentioned above is beyond the California rebates in place for solar (which get reduced every year or so). For any solar installation you get a 30% tax credit – 30% of your out of pocket cost, back to you on your taxes the next year.

Let the sun shine. – the company we used

From my weekly green tips:

Re-useable mesh produce bags

Reuseable mesh produce bags

Every time you go to the store, you are bringing your reusable canvas bags – saving yourself from the conundrum of paper or plastic. You feel great about remembering this as you go through all the grocery isles, and then you come to the produce section. More plastic bags!

Yes, you can recycle them (see last post on this at, or you can use them for your dog’s poop, but you probably already have more than you need. Now there is an affordable and practical option – reusable mesh produce bags. You can see through them, wash them, refrigerate them, and even stuff them to take up next to no space. Some are made from organic cotton, some from recycled plastic bottles. Prices: 5 for $11, or $3-5 each.

Another use for them – Buy extra to save some for wrapping up a small gift. How green and practical is that if your wrapping paper is a re-useable produce bag?


a cover story about a guy from a company called
a 12 x 12 residential living room
a black cloth

editorial magazine cover photography by Robert Houser

editorial magazine cover photography by Robert Houser