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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Monday, Aug. 12, 2013

Are solar incentives a good use of government money?



By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


It drives me crazy when people go into their respective corners when they're talking about energy. People politicize the issue and only talk to those who are already in their camp, whether that means people who believe in nuclear energy, oil exploration off the coast or really alternative things like wind and geo-thermal.

Unfortunately, there's no recognition that there could be wisdom across the political divide. In reality, there's no one silver bullet to answer our energy problem. I am an advocate of nuclear power, natural gas and solar energy. I laid out my own dollars to go solar at home. Now I have app on my phone where I can see how much solar power is generated at my house by day, week, month and year.

So I guess you could say I'm obsessed with energy independence. My message to you is forget about your political persuasion and remember we are all Americans. As Americans, our job is to improve our country's standing in the world and improve national security here at home. That's why the energy question is so important.

One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to figure how to not need to use that kilowatt hour of energy in the first place. You can do some relatively inexpensive things like insulate your attic or caulk around your doors and windows and bam! you can get instant or very quick payback.

Those are simple retrofits you can make to a home, but what about building that same home in an energy smart way upfront? KB Homes is borrowing an idea from those little yellow tags on appliances that tell you how much you'll spend in energy on a dishwasher or a refrigerator. They're offering an energy performance guide that details the monthly estimated natural gas and electric costs for the square footage of their new homes vs. what's typical for that same amount of square footage in a similar home.

I hope KB is successful and this idea becomes part of the process of making a home-buying decision. Efficiency matters because it impacts your wallet. I talked in the past about passive homes that cost 7-8% more to build but offer payback in a few years and then you have practically zero in utility bills after that. On a scale of 1 to 10, KB's initiative is a 3 or a 4, while a passive home is more like a 9 or 10.

On the issue of solar, I've talked before about how solar has really been a game for people who have the money to slap those panels on their homes. But that leaves so many people out of the game. That's why I'm excited about a company called SolarCity.com that will lease you the solar system in some Western and Northeastern states. While you won't save as much as if you lay out the money yourself upfront to buy the system, this effort lowers the bar and lets more people get in on money-saving solar energy.