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This article by Terri Bookman was prepared for the October 30, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Solar Now, Wind May Be Next

I have been interested in earth-related issue since

I was a teenager," says Hamilton resident Susan Deckert. In her

life-long career as an environmentalist, Deckert worked as a park

naturalist for the Mercer County Park System, for the NJ Department

of Agriculture as an environmentalist, for the NJ Department of Transportation

writing environmental impact statements, and at the NJ Department

of Environmental Protection in the Hazardous Waste Program. She was

co-chair of the Mercer County Solid Waste Commission for 15 years,

and for 12 years served on the Hamilton Township Environmental Commission.

This year Deckert was in the first wave of New Jersey residents to

install solar/photovoltaic (PV) panels to help power her home.

"I would have done it sooner," she says. But for economic

reasons, she says, she had no choice but to wait for the rebate and

net-metering programs to take effect to install her 2.5 kW PV system

— the largest that would fit on her roof.

"The state-funded rebate was a huge incentive," she says.

The tax incentives available before the rebates "were not sufficient."

In addition, she says, over the decades when she followed developments

in the alternative energy field, the systems improved and became more

efficient and less expensive. The technology and efficiency "continues

to be improved," notes Deckert. "The price of my unit would

have been substantially lower" — about $5,000 less — had

she waited a year or two longer to install it.

But by 2001, Deckert had been waiting so long to install solar panels

on the house where she has lived since 1974 (her home was originally

built in 1929), that she jumped at the chance to be a pioneer for

residential solar. She refinanced her home’s mortgage to pay for the

initial outlay for the system.

Deckert’s installation cost, before rebate, was $34,000, including

the battery backup system that she elected to include as part of what

she regards as the "insurance policy" that her PV system provides.

"It’s insurance for the continued operation of my refrigerator,

my computer," she says. It is also insurance for "cost avoidance

for future rate increases." Like many other residential solar

enthusiasts, Deckert is concerned about energy deregulation provisions

that will take effect in New Jersey next summer.

Deckert’s rebate for her rooftop solar installation was $14,000. Like

all the PV systems in the Clean Energy Program, Deckert’s system is

linked to the New Jersey power grid, so she also participates in net-metering

whereby her excess energy production is sold back onto the grid. With

net-metering, Deckert estimates she saves about $600 per year on energy

bills through use of her PV system.

Deckert, a New Jersey native, graduated from Monmouth University with

a B.S. in a pre-med area, with the intention of becoming an environmentalist.

Deckert is divorced, with two grown sons. In 2000, she stood as a

candidate for Mercer County Freeholder on the Green Party ticket.

Deckert says she had to deal with some challenges in the course of

her PV installation because of township regulations that needed to

be streamlined. When she began her effort to install PV, she says,

"there was no law guiding Hamilton Township in reviewing my project.

We were able to prevail upon the mayor to issue an executive order

to expedite the process. It’s been a tremendous education going through

all of the permitting process, plus an education in the available

technology."

Deckert does not expect her alternative energy use to culminate with

her PV installation. She notes that there also have been important

recent advances in wind energy technologies. If installed for home

or commercial energy generation, wind power would also be subject

to the Clean Energy Program’s rebate and net metering provisions.

She is interested, she says. "I am looking at wind generation.

I can’t fit any more solar panels on my roof, but I could do wind."

— Terri Bookman


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