[Noozhawk note: The following letter was written in response to a Craig Allen column published Monday in Noozhawk.]

Dear Craig,

First let me thank you for your article in Noozhawk regarding solar electricity. Our choices around electricity are hugely important given the economic and environmental ramifications of the different options.

I also wanted to thank you for your discussion of different investing opportunities in solar electricity. Locally, we have been working with a new solar finance company, Wiser Capital to try to fund solar projects on local nonprofits. We have a project in process right now that will save the nonprofit significantly and get our investors double-digit returns.

I do want to touch on your discussion of costs, rebates and tax credits as they were a bit off from what we’re seeing in the field.

First, your estimated cost of solar is high. Conservatively, we’re seeing residential prices around $4.50/watt (our current group purchase program has a base of $3.95/watt: www.SolarizeSYV.org). At $4.50/watt, a 3kW system would cost $13,500 and a 7kW would cost $31,500. Not the $18,000 to $40,000 you mentioned in the article.

Furthermore, the rebates from the State of California are effectively gone and have been insignificant for the better part of six months (longer in PG&E territory). Right now, a 3kW system in Edison territory would net a $600 rebate. Yet we have not seen the adoption of solar drop because the rebate did what it was supposed to do — drive up adoption and drive down price.

With the federal tax credit, as I understand, it can be taken on the entire system cost after rebates. And while it is expiring in 2016, subsidies for oil and gas never expire. They have been in place since the early 1900s, and therefore, a true discussion of comparative costs are impossible. We continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry so it can be competitive today. Why shouldn’t we subsidize solar? Or better yet, take away all subsidies and let renewable energy compete on an even playing field.

Last, we are seeing ROIs in the double digits, paybacks on systems in six to seven years and lifetime savings (something most people tend to forget about) in the tens of thousands of dollars. And that’s just for the warrantee “life” of the system. Additionally for homeowners who decide to lease, or business owners with PPAs, savings can be immediate and drastic with no upfront costs.

If you would like to do a follow-up article on actual people and businesses switching to solar, we’d be happy to arrange that. Thank you for your time and examination of this important topic.

Megan Birney, energy programs manager
Community Environmental Council
Santa Barbara