Solar powered homes ease utility bill stress

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FULTON - Summer may bring high electric bills for many residents, but one Fulton homeowner is not worried about his bill thanks to a little help from the sun. 

Larry Jones and his wife, Judy Fiocco, installed solar panels in their home in April. Jones said they are already reaping the benefits. 

"My last utility bill was a negative number," Jones said. 

Fiocco said Jones came to her with the idea after they recently moved into their historic Renshaw House. The Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society designated the house, circa 1879, as historic in 2011. 

"I was always in favor of alternative energy sources, but I never really imagined that I would have a solar home," Fiocco said.

Darin Wernig, Fulton's Public Information Officer, said that Jones and Fiocco are the second residential property in Fulton to put in solar panels.

Dan Shifley of Dogwood Solar installed the panels in Jones and Fiocco's home. Shifley, who started his company over five years ago, said the number of people investing in solar panels is rising. 

"The interest in terms of people calling and asking is very steadily building," Shifley said. 

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, nearly 645,000 U.S. homes and businesses went solar in 2014.The SEIA said the forecast for 2015 remains strong. Fifty-one percent of new electric generating capacity came from solar energy in the first quarter of this year.

"It's in the media as a whole more certainly," Shifley said. "There seems to be more awareness about it." 

"Although the cost of solar has gone down substantially, it's still a little bit more expensive than the utility provided electricity," Connie Kacprowicz, a spokesperson for Columbia Water and Light, said. 

Before investing in a solar system, Kacprowicz said homeowners needs to evaluate the cost and see how much the solar panels will produce over time.

Homeowners can save some costs by applying for a federal tax credit. According to, the credit offers a rebate for 30 percent of the installation costs. The credit applies to residential energy property, including solar electric systems, solar water heating systems, fuel cells, small-wind energy systems and geothermal heat pumps. 

Even though the tax credit expires in December 2016, Shifley said he does not expect his business to suffer without the incentive. 

"Instead of thinking maybe this is something cool or this is something I would like to do for the environment or for my own personal return, maybe it's because 'Wow, I really cannot afford not to do solar because the cost of electric has gone up so much!'" Shifley said. 

"Well, we basically have energy free for the rest of our lives and it's good for the world," Jones said. "We're very much about looking to a bright future, and this is as bright as it gets."

Jones and Fiocco are set to showcase their solar panels on Saturday, June 13, at their home on 307 E. Fifth Street in Fulton.