While solar power may seem like a Southern California phenomenon, it’s actually on the rise locally, with customers taking advantage of Tahoe’s approximately 300 days of sunlight a year and Truckee’s rebates, some of the best in the state. Even the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is hopping on the solar train, with solar panels to be installed at Kings Beach Elementary this summer.

“The solar thing to us was important,” said Sherry McConkey, director of the Shane McConkey Foundation, which donated $20,000 towards the school’s solar power installation. “We want to educate the students how important solar is and how much we are wasting every day. They don’t get it until they see it physically in front of them.”

Mark Dickson, general manager of Simple Power, is seeking to install a photovoltaic (PV) solar system at no cost to the school. As a former science teacher, he is excited about the opportunity to educate teachers, students, and parents on the benefits of solar by incorporating lessons into the curriculum. He explained that this is a pilot project for the school district, and McConkey said she hopes the foundation can give every school in the district solar panels one day.

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Although Simple Power just became a division of Kelly Brothers Painting in September, Dickson ran his company in Montana for seven years, installing systems for the U.S. Forest Service, celebrities, and developers. Now a Truckee resident, Dickson is ready to educate locals on why solar is beneficial, even in a cold weather, mountain climate.

Solar panels are actually more efficient at colder temperatures, Dickson said, noting that electricity flows better and at our higher elevation the sun’s intensity is greater, which allows for excellent PV production. Snow is only an issue when it covers the panels, but it melts off quickly, he said. The one major issue with solar and the Sierra is the trees. Dickson said approximately 75 percent of homes in the area can’t have solar because trees block the sun’s rays. But for those who can install solar, this is a prime area for it.

“It increases the value of your home, it reduces your carbon footprint, and sets a good example to friends and neighbors,” Dickson said.

SOLAR REBATES In addition to being Earth-friendly, installing solar is a long-term money saver. In Truckee, residents can expect a first-year utility savings of $864, according to Dickson, with rebates from the Truckee Donner Public Utility District and a 30 percent federal tax credit. In 2008, California initiated an incentive program, requiring utility districts to offer savings to their customers who install solar, with the goal of installing 3,000 megawatts of solar energy systems on homes and businesses statewide by the end of 2016. Since the program’s inception, the TDPUD has given 62 rebates, which is a total of $680,000, according to Kathy Neus, special projects administrator for the TDPUD.

“I would love to see a greater participation, but living in a resort community with poor winters and a poor economy doesn’t always leave extra cash in the pocketbook,” Neus said, noting that 2012 was the lowest participation year. “Yet, the amount rebated can be a third to a half of the cost to install a solar system in the district’s territory.”

But Neus said she is seeing an increase in local rebates, with 14 rebates being given last year. They have already received two applications this year, but Neus expects to receive the majority of applications in June and July. The maximum rebate for residents is $8,220, while businesses can receive up to $13,700.

“One of the large benefits to installing solar in Truckee is that we generate the most when we use the least — in the summer,” Neus said. “All excess kilowatt hours generated by the system are banked in the customer’s account to be used during the high energy usage months when we generate the least — in the winter.”

Typically, a residential system installed in Truckee will be paid off in 4.1 years, while a commercial system will get a return on its investment in 2.2 years. For 2014, the rebate amount per watt is $2.74, which takes into consideration the de-rating of the equipment. And Dickson said these are exactly the reasons why area homeowners should install solar.

“Because of the huge rebate it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Dickson said. “Overall, it’s a guaranteed investment. You do have to wait a little bit to get your money back, but you are going to get it back.”

Sheri Gerber, who had solar panels installed on her Olympic Heights home in October, said she decided to go solar because her home gets a lot of sunlight, and she wanted to take advantage of the local rebates.

“The Truckee Donner PUD has some of the best rebates in the country,” Gerber said, noting that her electric bill is already $100 less a month. “So far, it’s been really great. I’m super glad we did it.”

However, residents only have three years to get state rebates on installing solar. The program decreases a minimum of seven percent a year, ending in 2017. But Neus expects to see more local participation in that time.

“I believe that the Truckee community is very conservation-minded in all aspects of their lives,” Neus said. “The district’s customers do a very good job of conserving energy through the district’s conservation programs; installing solar is one more method for customers to conserve.”

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  • Kara Fox

    When she’s not writing or editing the news section for Moonshine Ink, Kara Fox can be seen hiking in the spring, paddle boarding in the summer, mushroom hunting in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter, and hanging out with her 7-year-old son year-round.

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    Truckee, CA 96161
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