Columbia Home Boasts Largest Residential Solar Panel System in City

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COLUMBIA - All it took was one flip of a switch for Ava Fajen and Scott Christianson to become solar powered.

In late October the couple installed 24 solar panels on their home, making it the largest solar panel system in the city.

The system is rated at 5,640 watts and is expected to produce 100 percent of their electrical usage. The annual return on investment for the system is estimated at 12 percent.

"We started looking into it this summer and learned how simple it was to install the panels," he said. "We plan on staying in this home for many more decades and we'd like to do our part to help the planet."

Christianson and Fajen partnered with Tom O'Connor, owner of H20'C Engineering.
Originally, O'Connor designed a 12-panel system with a 7 percent annual return on investment.

However, since Christianson and Fajen were able to install the panels themselves, they were able to invest in a bigger system.

"I've always had a do-it-yourself kind of personality," Christianson said. "When we saw how easy it is to install the panels on the roof, I had a few friends come over and the installation only took about three days."

The city meter placed on the outside of the home differs for homes sporting solar panels. The meter measures how many kilowatt hours the city delivers to the home and the number of kilowatt hours the home has left over after using its required power-which in turn is sent back to the city.

If the home sends the city more kilowatt hours than the city delivers to it, the homeowner receives a credit. This credit can be used at night, for example, when the panels are not generating power.

A 30% Federal Tax Credit is given to homeowners who install solar panel systems.

In addition, Columbia Water and Light offers a rebate of about fifty cents per kilowatt.

"The money from the federal tax credit comes back into our community, which is a benefit," O'Connor said. "It's rare you can spend money and then pull federal money back into the community."

The Federal Tax Credit will end starting in January of 2017.

Because of this, O'Connor says the price of solar panel systems will increase by one-third, which could affect people's willingness to invest in such a system.

"It's going to be interesting to see what happens," O'Connor said. "Maybe groups who were unable to apply for the tax credit will begin to take advantage of the surplus in supply," he said.

For now, O'Connor says the biggest factor when people are considering investing in a system is finances.

"Money is a big factor for most people, obviously," O'Connor said. "But depending on the home, investing in one of these systems may be a good financial decision in the long run."