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Going solar in the land of enchantment.

With an average of only 13 totally overcast days per year, many are surprised more people do not live a solar lifestyle in New Mexico. And yet, the principles of passive solar living have been followed in this state for centuries. The Anasazi tribe built cities into the south side of a cliff face where the winter sun would warm them nearly 900 years ago.

But New Mexico is a poor state, and the cost of photovoltaic technology comes second to the basic needs for food and shelter. This does not mean that the people of New Mexico are ignorant or do not want the advantages of solar, but it means that they weigh those advantages versus cost carefully.

Michael Franco is retired from the Air Traffic Control Flight Service. His petite wife, Denise Richard-Franco is still working in Albuquerque. Together they have been incorporating the elements of energy efficiency into their lives for a number of years. Water conservation is weighed against electrical use in the desert southwest, so unlike most houses locally, theirs uses refrigerated air, which saves water over the more normal swamp coolers, and they have replaced their appliances and lights over time with Energy Star rated items.

From their front yard, Sandia Mountain can be seen against the eastern sky. Silently their little dog, Jesse, plays hide and seek in the small bushes lining the back yard while Michael pops a sweet cherry tomato fresh from a lush plant just off the patio. Because they both love central New Mexico and have a steady income, they consider themselves as settled and prefer to spend their spare time improving their living environment.

The cabinets and wall borders are filled with Denise's artwork--a type of Norwegian painting known as Rosemaling, for which she has won several blue ribbons. Their home reflects the inner peace and grace of a couple whose strong spiritual values guide their actions and desires.

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When both the state of New Mexico and the federal government brought out tax credit programs in 2007, Michael and Denise felt they could afford to follow their hearts to not only become more self-sufficient, but also participate in a system whereby their excess energy would benefit the whole community.

The Federal Tax credit program pays up to 30% of an installed system's cost up to a maximum of $2,000 separately for either photovoltaic electrical generation systems or solar hot water. More information on this program can be found in the Solar Energy Industries Association Guide to Federal Tax Incentives for Solar Energy, which can be found on their website: www.seia.org.

The State of New Mexico's personal income tax credit program will pay up to 30% of the PV system's cost as well, less the amount already paid by federal tax reimbursement, but up to $9,000. In addition to photovoltaics, the State's tax credit could also be used for solar hot water or direct solar hot air systems. For more information on New Mexico's renewable energy policies and incentives, you can check the website of the NM Coalition for Clean, Affordable Energy at www. NMCCAE.org

New Mexico requires that the system be certified by the NM Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural resources before the tax credit will be allowed. Information on the certification is available at www. cleanenergynm.org. Implemented by New Mexico a couple of years ago, this practice was urged by the Solar Energy Industries Association to discourage the kind of fly-by-night companies which gave solar a black eye back in the 1970s.

The deal was made sweeter as the local utility, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), offers an enhanced net-metering program. Utilities in New Mexico are required to allow net-metering, wherein electricity the homeowner produces is fed into the utility grid or taken from the grid as needed, but most of them are only required to pay the homeowner exactly as much as the owner pays the company for the energy he or she uses.

The PNM program offers participating residential customers 13 cents per kWh for the energy they feed into the utility grid while the owner only pays 8 cents per kWh for energy taken from the grid. PNM will authorize the interconnection of any photovoltaic, or other qualifying renewable resource, generating system rated at 10 kilowatts or less that complies with New Mexico Public Regulation Rule 17.9.571 and with PNM's interconnection and safety standards.

"We could have invested $22,500 in an automobile, or in the solar energy system," Michael explained, "but the car wouldn't pay me back every month, and the system quietly, efficiently works to give us the power we need and then some."

After attending their annual Solar Fiesta, Michael researched the Professional's Directory of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association (NMSEA) to find companies in and around Albuquerque and Santa Fe that install photovoltaic systems. Michael spoke with friends who know the solar companies in the area, then he and Denise visited the websites of local installers. After investigating various companies, they decided to go with Direct Power and Water, Inc.

Denise indicated they were impressed with the working net-metered solar system Direct Power uses on their own building, and with the professional and detail oriented manner in which the company served their customer's needs. Chris Karsa, the Technical Marketing Manager from Direct Power walked them through every stage of purchase, planning, installation and hooking up to the grid.

"We liked that Chris would e-mail us frequently during the planning process and give us updates on the status of permits, equipment and paperwork." said Michael. From the time that the Franco's first signed the purchase agreement to the time that PNM certified the system for grid intertie took approximately one and a half months, though the actual physical installation of the system took only two and a half days.

Although there are no homeowner's association restrictions in their neighborhood, the Franco's 2 kilowatt expandable system is set on the west side of the roof so as not to be obvious from the street. It is easily seen and accessible from their comfortable back yard. Most residential backyards in Albuquerque are fairly small (frequently less than 80x50 feet) and are fenced by six-foot cinder block walls. The walls to provide protection from sand flung across the desert by high winds. Tall fir trees lining the west wall of the Franco's property are far enough away that they do not block the solar panels and still give the yard a sense of privacy.

The Franco PV system is powered by 13 Mitsubishi 165 watt modules. An SMA Sunny Boy SB3800U utility interactive inverter is used to translate the DC power to AC household power. Low profile roof mounts with telescoping legs adjustable to 45 degrees were manufactured by POWERFAB, the manufacturing division of Direct Power & Water. The mounting is comprised of mill-finish structural aluminum angle and assembled with stainless steel hardware.

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Attaching to the asphalt shingle roof was completed by securing to the roof trusses with 2-1/2 inch lag screws. A layer of EPDM rubber is placed between the mounting feet and the roof surface to protect roofing and prevent leakage. The mounting was engineered and designed for areas with 90mph wind speeds and Exposure C category.

The total cost of the system was $22,553. With the tax credits, the total out of pocket cost was reduced by $7,500. By factoring in the payments being made to the Francos by PNM and the amount they are saving in electrical costs each month, the Franco's return on investment should be just over 17 years. As well as feeding energy into the utility grid, a net-metering system is designed to allow homeowners to pull energy from the grid at night or during times of heavy overcast should they need to. This system is not designed to provide power should the utility grid fail.

Michael likes the fact that their system requires very little maintenance. "The power in central New Mexico is reliable, we do not usually have outages of over a few hours at most, so we felt no need for a battery back-up system."

Karsa did all the net-metering paperwork required by PNM and the state of New Mexico for the Francos, and was on site during the hook up and inspections. One of the requirements of net-metering is that a plastic tube must be attached to the meter containing a wiring diagram and other pertinent information in case the utility company needs this information in a hurry.

PNM only accepts a limited number of houses into the net-metering program each year, and the Franco's home was the last one added in November of 2006. Michael likes the fact that even on overcast days, his system meter is spinning to indicate that energy is being shunted into the grid.

The Franco's next challenge is to file for their solar rights. New Mexico has a relatively strong solar rights law that both establishes use of solar energy as a "property right," and also creates a process by which a property owner may protect their solar access from shading from adjacent properties in certain zoning areas by creating an "easement," if the owner files for their solar rights with their local zoning authority in advance of development on the adjacent property that would incur the shading to be avoided.

The Solar Rights Act states: "Once vested, the right shall be enforceable against any person who constructs or plans to construct any structure, in violation of the terms of the Solar Rights Act [47-3-1 to 47-3-5 NMSA 1978] or the Solar Recordation Act [47-3-6 to 47-3-12 NMSA 1978]. A solar right shall be considered an easement appurtenant, and a suit to enforce a solar right may be brought at law or in equity."

A woman with a solar greenhouse attached to the southside of her home near downtown Albuquerque had filed the paperwork for her solar rights several years ago. Just last year a company bought the lot next to her and began to build a three-story office building. With her paperwork in order, she won the suit restraining the company from shadowing her yard.

Michael filled out the paperwork and is following the steps laid out in the How to Go Solar in New Mexico guidebook offered by the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy on their website listed at the end of this article.

Their first full month's electric bill followed the rare cloudy month of December, 2006. It showed a balance of 7 cents. The bill is listed in two sections, one which shows how much energy the Francos have drawn from the grid during the month, and one which shows how much energy they have fed into the grid.

Prior to the solar system's installation, the Franco's average monthly electrical bill over the last few years was $47. PNM's net-metering agreement states that the Francos will be issued a check whenever their account balance shows that they are owed $20. "The checks sent to us by the utility company had been running about $30 a month since April," said Michael. The addition of refrigerated air to the home reduced the monthly income to a breakeven point. But by using it instead of a swamp cooler they are reducing their water use by hundreds of gallons a year--a good decision in a desert climate.

Every so often a neighbor walks by and catches a glimpse of the solar panels hidden behind the roofline. When asked how they like their PV system Denise simply answers, "It's wonderful."

Information on Tax Credits for Solar in New Mexico

www.nmccae.org/Downloads/ Go_Solar_Guide.pdf

The New Mexico Solar Energy Association's Directory of Solar Professionals can be found at www. nmsea.org

Installer: Direct Power & Water Corporation, www.directpower.com

ROSE MARIE KERN

NEW MEXICO

[c] 2009

Rose Marie Kern is a past president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. She and her mate, Tom, are in the throes of building their own passive solar residence with solar and wind energy systems which you can read about on their website www.solarranch.com.
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Title Annotation:Alternative energy
Author:Kern, Rose Marie
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2010
Words:2037
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