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There's money to be saved in solar

Solar energy solutions are becoming increasingly common in Florida, with residents and businesses using solar power for both financial and environmental reasons. The recent extension in tax incentives is likely to further the trend of "going green."

"We're seeing prices become extremely competitive and more in line with what people want," said Andrew Rasken, owner of Bam Solar Power, a Jacksonville-based solar installation company. "It's an investment offering a fixed cost of energy over 20 years, and people are starting to notice."

Since JEA began offering solar rebates in 2002, the number of customers using solar energy has increased 30 percent. In 2008, 63 customers were rebated for installing a solar system.

A typical solar-panel electric system produces up to 30 percent of an average building's electrical needs and can cut monthly electric bills by about 30 percent, according to JEA.

With the recent extension in tax incentives, the savings can add up.

Consumers who spend at least $5,000 on a solar-based electric system are now eligible to receive an uncapped 30 percent federal tax credit, a $4-per-watt rebate from the state and an $800 fixed rebate from JEA, returning the investment in about six to seven years, Rasken said.

Florida also offers a $500 fixed rebate for homeowners who install solar water heaters.

The average residential solar electric system costs from $20,000 to 40,000 for about 3 kilowatts of power, Rasken said.

Each kilowatt of power can produce 150 kilowatt-hours of energy per month.

So if someone uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy each month, a 3-kilowatt solar electric system would compensate for 450 of those hours, or 45 percent of the electrical bill.

"Every home is different and its own challenge, but our goal is to offset at least 20 percent from the monthly energy bill," Rasken said.

The Dana B. Kenyon Co., a solar-panel installation company that focuses solely on commercial installation, has seen an increase in businesses wanting to add solar to their buildings to reduce operating costs. These remodels account for the majority of the company's sales, chief executive Matthew Kenyon said.

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