Buckley homes run on the sun

Northwest Wind and Solar teams up with Buckley homeowners to add solar power.

It was a cold, crisp winter morning in Buckley with the temperature about 25 degrees when Dennis Smith had his revelation.

“The sun was coming up and I could see my roof steaming as it was warming up,” said Smith, who had been thinking about solar energy for years.

With his home basking in southern exposure, he started looking harder.

“It is a viable option in this area,” he said. “We do have the climate here for it.”

He did some investigating and teamed up with Northwest Wind and Solar, which installed a 4.7 kilowatt photovoltaic solar electric system on his 3,700-square-foot, two-story log home.

Smith said a pellet stove warms the home’s basement nicely, but upstairs the house’s vaulted ceilings challenge the gas furnace and electric blowers to keep an even temperature during the winter.

“I wanted to do something to cut our energy usage and costs,” said Smith, who also wanted to be environmentally supportive.

According to a release from Northwest Wind and Solar, residential solar systems are popular in California and Oregon, where electricity is far more expensive than in Washington. Although people think of western Washington as gray and cloudy much of the time, solar energy systems are highly viable and increasingly popular here as the price of electricity continues to escalate and as more environmentally-conscious consumers recognize the benefits.

Smith’s system is grid-tied and roof-mounted. The panels were placed on top of the existing roof on the 10-year-old house. Puget Sound Energy switched the meters out June 9.

According to Smith, in less than two weeks the system has put 88 kilowatt hours back on the grid. The system has produced 300 kW which cut his usage by more than half during mostly cloudy weather.

The recent stretch of sunny weather has pumped up the energy, said Smith, who keeps track by watching the meter on his back porch.

“Even with slight cloud coverage and some sun now and then, I can get 20 kilowatts a day with minimal sun,” he said.

His $30,000 investment, Smith believes, will pay off in tax incentives, buy-back and credits from PSE and the savings in his monthly energy bill. He’s also banking on the value the solar panels add to his home in a declining housing market.

According to a press release, another Buckley resident, Phil Ouimet, installed a 8.28 kW solar power system in May 2010 and it produced 8,450 kilowatt hours in the first year.

“I love the online monitoring and watching the meters spin as my array produces electricity from the sun. I can’t think of another home improvement that has been more rewarding,” said Ouimet, a retired Boeing engineer.