Going solar

Bill Zagorski with Solar Energy USA and the Rev. George Bennett show one of the 20 solar panels that were installed on Bennett’s house.

VALDOSTA — When the Rev. George Bennett receives his next power bill, it could be about 90 percent lighter thanks to the installation of solar panels on his home, a decision he said was practical as well as spiritual.

“Since I’m a minister, I believe that the universe we are living in was created by the God of my understanding and getting that direct energy source from the sun is a part of God’s plan,” said Bennett, who is a minister of the First Christian Church of Valdosta on North Patterson Street.

Bennett’s decision to go solar was not a difficult one for him to make. He had been thinking about it for years. He researched installers, consulted financial advisers and came to the conclusion that solar energy was good for the country, good for the environment and good for his soul.

“We are now able to directly access God’s energy source, the sun. I believe there will be a majority of people who will be able to access solar energy within the next 20 years,” said Bennett. “I believe that it’s essential for the strength and longevity of our country.”

To transform those beliefs into something tangible, Bennett turned to Bill Zagorski and Solar Energy USA, a national network of solar-panel installers. Zagorski’s company recently did a 400-panel installation for the Georgia National Guard in Savannah, and he said his business throughout the state has doubled in the last few years.

“I think it’s public awareness. I think people are starting to figure out that they can make their own energy without burning coal or natural gas,” said Zagorski.

He said countries like Germany and Israel are finding success and energy independence through solar energy.

“The U.S. lags behind in this kind of thing,” said Zagorski.

He hopes this will change with more people such as Bennett investing in solar energy.

“The prices have gone way down. On the typical $20,000 installation, about 60 percent of that is labor,” said Zagorski. “We’re digging and pouring cement. It’s a construction project. It’s technical and has a lot of dimensions.”

Upfront costs have always been a concern for people considering solar energy, said Zagorski, but he said it is an expense that makes financial sense because solar energy saves money over time and increases the value of a home.

“Ultimately, people see about an 8 percent return on their investment,” said Zagorski. “And I challenge any financial person to dispute that.”

Bennett said he will receive a $16,000 tax credit for his installation and solar panels will pay for themselves in about 11 years.

“The panels cost about $1,200 each. If they are attached to the home, they are covered under homeowner’s insurance. There’s a 30 percent tax credit available for them this year. They do not reflect light, they absorb light. There is no glare. And it takes us about two days to do the installation,” said Zagorski.

The system is integrated with the electric-power service coming into his home. Energy from the panels flows into the system before the energy from the power company. Bennett will still use some power from the local grid, but he estimates it will only be about 10 percent of his overall usage.

“There’s no difference in how the power works,” said Zagorski. “It doesn’t interrupt the feed, it just slows the meter down. It pushes energy through the breaker before the power company.”

Since the installation, Bennett said his electricity works as seamlessly as ever. He has not been able to tell a difference. There may be months when Bennett’s panels generate more power than he uses. In those instances, Bennett can sell the excess energy to the power company at voided cost.    

Bennett’s home is Zagorski’s first Valdosta installation, but he hopes to do more here. He said people considering solar should research companies and become familiar with how local building codes and power companies handle solar energy.

With the installation complete, both Bennett and Zagorski look toward the future, especially after last month’s announcement by Tesla Motors that it has developed a battery that can store energy and power an entire home.

“We have not been able to answer the phones fast enough,” said Zagorski. “That announcement is a fundamental shift in what’s going to happen with energy in this country. That announcement may change the world.”

Bennett said he is already looking into how to get the battery for his home in the hope of completely disconnecting himself from the power grid and using what he believes is God’s source of energy – the sun.

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