Going Solar in the South

While we’re still dealing with oil spills and mining disasters, a much safer source of renewable energy is shining down from the sky. The issue with solar energy has never been about the resource potential—endless. It’s been about the higher cost of converting the sun’s rays to electricity compared to fossil fuels.

Right now, solar energy accounts for less than one percent of U.S. power, but improved technology has dramatically reduced the price of solar resources, and federal and state incentives continue to increase. Uncle Sam now offers a 30 percent federal tax credit on the total cost of buying and installing a residential solar-electric system, and growth in the solar industry has exploded in the last few years. New solar installations in the U.S. increased by more than 40 percent from 2006 to 2007, and last year the domestic solar industry created 17,000 new jobs. A recent report by the International Energy Agency expects solar to provide a quarter of the world’s electricity by 2050.

Regionally, Southern states are offering generous tax incentives for using renewable energy sources at residential and commercial levels. Solar is quickly becoming a viable option for the average consumer, but it’s still not without significant up-front cost. A five-kilowatt system with rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels will initially run around $40,000 out of pocket. But with tax credits, that amount is reduced by $10,000 to $20,000, depending on your home state. Plus, you can start recouping money by selling power to utilities on a monthly basis.

Here’s a breakdown of solar incentives in Southern states:

Maryland *****
Residential solar systems receive $.85 per kilowatt hour credit.

Solar energy grant program pays up to $10,000 for PV systems under 20 kWh and 30 percent of the installed cost up to $2,000 for solar water heaters.

By 2022, Maryland electric companies must generate power from at least 20 percent renewable energy sources, and two percent has to be solar.

Utilities can pay up to $.40 per kWh in 2010.

North Carolina *****
35% tax credit for equipment and installation costs.

Utilities in North Carolina purchase power generated on private solar grids, and the nonprofit NC Green Power pays an additional 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Commercial photovoltaic systems receive 18 cents per kilowatt hour.

North Carolina’s Green Business Fund offers grants up to $100,000 for photovoltaic and solar thermal systems.

Virginia ***

$15 million in rebates for renewable energy systems to retrofit homes and commercial property (suspended last month due to overhwelming demand).

Companies receive $500 tax credit for every job created in renewable energy production with a yearly salary of $50,000 or more.

Grants up to $4.5 million annually for PV panel manufacturing.

South Carolina ***

Utilities purchase residential solar power at 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

25 percent tax credit on the costs of purchasing and installing a solar energy system up to $3,500.

Loans for 100 percent of costs up to $500,000 for photovoltaics and energy efficiency upgrades in nonprofit and government buildings.

Tennessee **

Residential solar purchased by TVA at 12 cents per kilowatt hour on top of the retail electricity rate.

Grants for businesses covering 40 percent of the cost of a PV system up to $75,000.

West Virginia *

Tax credits for 30 percent of cost of solar thermal or electric systems up to $2,000.