Solar and Wind Rebates: Money in Your Pocket

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Homeowners are eligible for federal rebates by switching to solar and wind systemsSolar and wind energy are becoming a natural choice in some areas of the country. Following in the footsteps of the government's "Cash for Clunkers" and appliance rebate program, homeowners in some states may be eligible for rebates when installing renewable energy systems in their homes and businesses.

In Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, Utah, and Wyoming, among others, programs are offering payments of thousands of dollars for residential solar photovoltaic, solar thermal or wind-energy systems. The state-allocated funding, as with other rebate programs, is being provided under the Recovery Act of 2009.

Ken Zweibel, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute, says the rebates are creating a "tipping point" for solar-powered systems, and renewable energy programs are thriving despite the recession and expensive installation costs.
The cost for renewable energy systems have up until now been prohibitive for the average American, but state rebates--combined with the 30 percent tax credit that can be applied to your next year's return --are putting affordability within sight.

Mark Smith, the co-founder of Solar Forward, an installation company in Santa Monica, Calif., estimates that through rebates and the tax-credit Americans are saving about half of the cost of a solar electric system. For a 2,000-square-foot house or condo, he predicts the investment for a solar energy system that lasts around 20 years would be $30,000. " I think [rebates] are vital to solar energy," he says. "Otherwise the cost is still too high."

For the cost of a wind generator, it takes about seven years to break even on utility bills, adds Smith. But the expense has not stopped some environmentally-conscious homeowners from taking advantage of the rebates, which vary in terms of incentives and rates from state to state.

In Massachusetts, the rebate program, which is already on its second go-around for smaller, residential systems, is "very popular," according to Kate Plourd, a spokeswoman with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Based on the system's size and power, Massachusetts residents get $1 back for each watt of energy generated, and another $1 back per watt if they are moderate-income households. There's an extra 10 cents per watt if the system's parts are made in-state. For a 2-kilowatt solar installation, a state resident could get anywhere from $2,000 to $4,200 in return on their investment.

In Utah, for a 1-kilowatt system, residents qualify for an estimated $2,000 rebate. A 2.4-kilowatt wind generator that may produce no energy on a still day is eligible for a $4,800 return.

Others, however, suggest that conservation is just as important as introducing renewable sources of energy into the supply chain. "In many places, you can cut electric bills in half by efficient appliances and lights," says John Duffy, a professor of solar engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

To search for other states, as well as guidelines, application deadlines and rebate rates, there's a national online database that tracks renewable incentive programs across the country.
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