Family installs solar panels to reduce energy costs

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Alternate to electric a 'unique' choice for Cecilia area residents

By Gina Clear

With energy costs rising, many homeowners are trying to find ways to save money on electricity. Turning off lights when  leaving a room or adjusting the thermostat by a few degrees cuts costs. But Hardin County residents Mike and Loretta Fitzpatrick decided to take  a different route.
For years, Mike Fitzpatrick has looked into the possibility of installing solar panels at his home in the Cecilia area.
“We’ve been looking at solar panels for several years because of the cost of electricity,” Mike said. “With coal and energy prices expected to go up, it’s timely.”
“Environmentally, it’s fine,” Loretta said. “It’s more economical than environmental.”
After researching and shopping around, the Fitzpatricks got serious. Mike hired Phelps Heating and Cooling of Hodgenville to install a LennoxSunSource Home Energy System for three reasons: He found a special offer on the system, the installer was local and he was pleased with their service in the past.
Even though the Fitzpatricks found a special offer, initial costs for a homeowner can be substantial when installing a solar panel system.
“Installation costs can vary greatly from contractor to contractor, as much as 50 percent,” said Jason Mattingly, Nolin RECC's energy service coordinator. “The upfront cost is quite high.”
The Fitzpatricks paid approximately $9,000 for their four-panel system and have the option to upgrade to up to 13 panels.
“It’s an expensive system to put in and it’s not something everyone is jumping to do,” said Jim Phelps of Phelps Heating and Cooling. “As demand increases, hopefully, cost will go down.”
According to Mattingly, only 15 homes under Nolin RECC coverage, the Fitzpatricks making 16, have solar panels supplying energy.
“Compared to anything else, they’re not totally unique,” Phelps said, “but it’s a little unique around here.”
Like any sun-reliant system, the amount of energy produced is based on the amount of sunlight the panels collect. Some paneling systems collect more sunlight based on their engineering and the amount of time the sun is out plays a role. More energy is collected in summer months compared to winter. They collect no energy at night.
According to Phelps, the system the Fitzpatricks installed has high output panels and the wattage generated is higher than the average panel.
“There’s a difference in quality for sure,” Phelps said.
Phelps said the panels can produce a maximum of 700 watts continuously, as long as the sun is shining. To put that in perspective, that’s enough to light seven 100-watt light bulbs at once.
Even with the electricity the panels are producing, the Fitzpatricks don’t see themselves going off the grid anytime soon.
“We’re not expecting to get all of the electricity with anything like the four panels we’re putting in,” Mike said, adding they won’t upgrade until they see results from the panels they installed.
With the system, the Fitzpatricks will be able to track their output via their home computer through a wireless router. Ultimately, the readouts the system produces over the course of the year will determine if the cost was worth the return.
“It’s hard to say what the payback is going to be,” Phelps said.
Gina Clear can be reached at (270) 505-1740.