Area residents sample green power at Expo

Costs dropping on solar, wind systems

May 07, 2010|By Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

Dozens of area residents and business people filed into the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium Friday for the first day of the Solar & Wind Expo to see how much it would cost to install solar panels or wind turbines — and how much that would cut utility bills.

The expo brings together companies that offer all kinds of renewable energy for home or office, sponsors said. They, the vendors and state officials on hand said there was a real demand for such products now that government incentives and declining prices are making the switch more affordable.

"The incentives for renewable energy have never been better," said Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. "We've seen exponential growth in the [state] program."

Woolf said the state is getting 50-100 applications a month for solar, wind and geothermal grants, which are now backlogged as officials determine which ones are for historic properties that require more paperwork. Much of the money comes from federal stimulus grants that will run out next year, but will partially be made up by utility fees for carbon emissions.

He said the cost to install a major solar system on a typical suburban house is about $30,000, but could end up costing as little as $4,000 after federal, state and local tax credits and grants, and selling energy credits to a utility. The system could pay for itself in energy savings in five years, he said.

That was good news to many who were trying to estimate their costs for solar and wind systems.

"I'm excited to see what we could get," said Barbara Lightner of York, Pa., who was especially interested in a backyard wind turbine. "We need to get away from Mideast oil."

Sam and Cindy Tongsinoon of Hanover said they want both solar and wind power. They had been watching the market for years to see when the costs would come down enough.

"We want to go 100 percent green," said Sam Tongsinoon. "We've been researching what we can afford."

Cindy Tongsinoon added, "It's been so expensive that no one [would] dare touch it."

Rebecca Schramm, an electrician on the Eastern Shore, was scouting products that she could offer customers, who have been asking about renewable energy. She wanted to make sure she offered only products that lived up to their billing on savings. "I think there are a lot of products that are not what they say."

The expo will be held through Sunday, with speeches and demonstrations planned all weekend. Founder and executive director George Lopez expects it to return next year, and expand to other East Coast cities.

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