A friendly source of power

BURBANK — Robert Beher hasn’t had a power bill that topped $5 for the past five years.

Every month, while most meters charge forward, his meter ticks in the opposite direction thanks to a 2.09-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system atop his 1,300-square-foot home.

“I was satisfied with the decision I made,” said Beher, whose home includes a personal computer and plasma television. “And I am still very happy with it.”

As part of a program that began 10 years ago, Beher was the fifth Burbank Water and Power customer to add solar panels to his property, a number that grew to 15 by 2007.

“Since, the program has exploded from my perspective,” said John Joyce, the utility’s solar support program manager.

Spurred by increased rebates, the utility has funded 36 projects with a total capacity of 1,428 kilowatts, he said. The solar panels are situated throughout the city, including atop car ports, homes and small businesses, an airport hanger and movie studio stages.

Warner Bros. last month announced the addition of more than 2,700 solar panels covering nearly two acres of the Mill Building roof.

The 500 kilowatts of clean energy generated is enough to power between 50 and 100 average-sized homes, said Jon Gilbert, president of studio facilities.

All of the activity has led to the city surpassing three gigawatt hours of local solar energy, enough to power nearly 6,000 homes for one month.

“It’s only going to grow, especially as it becomes even more cost effective,” said Councilman Dave Golonski. “Solar is particularly efficient in our region because peak demand corresponds with the daylight and the sun.”

Ten years ago the council established the city’s first solar photovoltaic incentive program called Solar Support.

The program offered residents an up-front incentive of $3 per watt installed up to $10,000. Commercial customers were funded based on kilowatt hours generated.

The council in March 2008 approved significant changes to its program to meet state laws encouraging the installation of 3,000 megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy across the state by Dec. 31, 2016.

They included removing the $10,000 rebate cap on residences and $25,500 cap on commercial projects, as well as increasing the up-front incentive to $3.50 per watt installed.

The city has a goal of reaching 15 megawatts by 2016.

Under state law, cities that provide incentives must cut them back at least 7% each year down to nothing by 2016.

“The thinking is that over time the solar industry should become more self-sufficient, that it’s time to start sending a message to manufacturers,” said Joyce, whose 2.7 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system has reduced his energy bill by two-thirds.

Burbank Water and Power recommends that those interested in solar energy first do their research to make sure that the system they install matches their consumption level.

They should also seek at least three estimates, Joyce said. A federal tax credit is available to those who qualify.

Beher, who in 2004 paid $12,000 to install his system, said he anticipates it paying for itself by 2014. For now, his meter shows a storage of 1,000 kilowatt hours.

“I’m using the grid as a bank account,” he said. “In the summertime, when I go to use the air conditioning, it starts tapping into my savings.”

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