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More solar power to him - on roof

A homeowner uses panels to harness the sun's energy for $10,000 now but tiny electricity bills later.

Published April 22, 2007

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]

ST. PETERSBURG - About the time air conditioners begin throbbing against June's dire heat, Peter Belmont expects his power bill to go down.

Say again?

"Next to nothing," the environmental lawyer said this month while watching work crews install solar panels on his townhouse roof.

Belmont thinks he is among the first in St. Petersburg to set up the photovoltaic panels on an existing residence. He lives at Fareham Place, a downtown development just off First Street N.

Twelve 200-watt panels will collect energy from the sun and convert it to electric power to run the household. It would seem a sensible situation in a place nicknamed the Sunshine City.

The 2.4-kilowatt setup, installed by Solar Direct of Bradenton, is worth $20,000. State rebates and federal income tax credits halved the cost, Belmont said.

Last year, the Legislature produced the Renewable Energy Technologies and Energy Efficiency Act, which provided $2.5-million in rebate money for residents and businesses installing solar electricity panels, and solar water and pool heaters.

The lawmakers are considering a proposal during the current legislative session to extend the program.

Belmont has yet to experience his panels at work. In a touch of irony, a few days of rain delayed the installation. Crews were finishing last week. It will take another 10 days for the power company to install a new meter, Belmont said. The apparatus should be up and running by early May.

City officials didn't have an immediately accessible database to determine whether Belmont's PV set is the first for an existing residence.

"We have lots and lots of traditional collectors to collect for heating hot water and pools," said Julie Weston, director of development services.

Solar Direct, the installer, has been around since 1986, said Dale Gulden, co-founder and chief executive officer.

Belmont's were the first photovoltaic panels the company has installed in St. Petersburg. Another job, a 5-kilowatt project, is pending in Treasure Island, Gulden said.

There has been more interest in PVs since the rebate program began, Gulden said. But he said other factors are at work: energy dependence, concurrent rising gas prices and natural disasters.

"It's like an explosion of circumstances that has hit people right in the face," Gulden said.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:57:13]

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