Todd Fallis’ tidy backyard features the best of country living, from the rabbit hutch to the gurgling pond — but this postcard-pretty setting also includes some cutting-edge technology.
Nestled among the fruit trees is an array of 10 large solar panels mounted on a pole, a new addition that Fallis hopes will dramatically reduce his electric bill.
“We just turned it on Tuesday,” said the Utah State University music professor. “I’m really proud of them. This is our orchard, and now we have a solar tree in our orchard.”
While Fallis and his wife, Liz, are definitely trendsetters in their neighborhood, the couple is far from alone in embracing “green” energy.
Solar systems are quickly sprouting up across northern Utah, and the interest shows no sign of slowing down.
“There is a mindset shift — people are more aware of what energy they use and how they use it,” said Doug Shipley, business manager at Intermountain Wind and Solar, a Woods Cross-based company that has installed eight residential solar systems in Cache Valley since 2009 and has more in the works.
Environmental consciousness is the main motivator, but Shipley noted that unprecedented government incentives have also buoyed the trend.
The rebates can cut the cost of a renewable energy system by 40 to 45 percent, putting them within reach for many who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
Retiree Nancy Pitblado falls into that group.
Thanks to a 30 percent federal tax credit, state rebate of up to $8,750 and state tax credit of up to $2,000, Pitblado got a price that fit her budget, paying about $6,000 for eight 225-watt panels. The incentives saved her about $4,000. Pitblado hopes the eight panels will cover all of her electricity usage.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” explained the Montana transplant, who recently built a home in Green Canyon Estates, a North Logan subdivision.
People who want a similar deal should act quickly. Shipley stressed that the state money is drying up, with $325,000 remaining for residential solar projects, down from roughly $3 million, which was released in May through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
But even without government help, going “green” often makes economic sense, Shipley said.
By substantially cutting electricity bills, the systems gradually pay for themselves, typically over about a decade.
Fallis estimates that it will take him seven years to make his money back, while USU marketing professor Ed Stafford is looking at about 11 years.
An expert in pitching renewable energy, Stafford set out to make his Logan home a model of sustainability, installing one of the most extensive solar projects in the valley — 24 panels — in addition to a geothermal heating system. Stafford said he expects his panels to lower his electricity bill from between 35 and 40 percent.
At $19,000 after subsidies ($36,000 before), Stafford admits that the solar panels are “not an inexpensive investment,” adding that he put off landscaping his yard to pay for them. Still, he has no regrets.
“I think about someone who might spend that much on a boat or some other toy and use it 10 times a year if they are lucky,” he explained. “This is something that, rain or shine, we will use every day.”
The stationary pole-mounted system was put up about a week ago behind Stafford’s garage, a spot where it is a bit out of the way.
Neighbors haven’t had a problem with the project, Stafford said, and in fact it has attracted some inquiries.
Like most trends, solar power is being spread by word of mouth, with friends talking up its benefits.
For instance, since putting up 10 panels in 2009, Paula and Dirk Davis have inspired several neighbors to follow suit, including Todd and Liz Fallis.
“There seems to be interest,” Paula said. “I think the Gulf spill is making people more aware that we need to do something different than rely on this fossil fuel.”
As the years go on, Shipley and the other “green” energy enthusiasts hope that dependence will gradually disappear.
“We have to raise the bar on how we use our power,” he said. “Conservation is going to be a big thing. You won’t see homes without some sort of renewable energy built in. It is going to be integrated, rather than an afterthought.”