As solar collection panels become increasingly familiar on New Jersey homes, more owners are learning how the sun’s power can offer enough energy to drastically reduce and sometimes even eliminate their electric bills.

Steve and Julie Rakus were among those peripherally aware of the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy. But they never seriously considered it for their Gloucester County home because the initial installation outlay.

“It was always ‘You have to pay $40,000, and you’ll recoup that money in 15 years or so’,” Steve Rakus said. “That wasn’t appealing to me” — even with the 30 percent federal Solar Investment Tax Credit and the prospect of turning his home into a mini solar-power plant capable of generating enough electricity to sell to utility companies.

But then the couple, both registered nurses, learned about what is becoming an increasingly available option: solar installers who will place their panels on residential roofs to generate power for the home while selling the excess to utility companies.

New Jersey utility companies are among those required to provide a certain percentage of power from eco-friendly renewable sources such as solar. Homeowners who own their systems can sell solar power in a sometimes complicated process involving Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Each time a solar installation generates 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, one certificate is earned, according to New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program.

The renovation

Prompted by the promise of solar energy with no money down and a reduced utility bill at the same rate for 20 years, Steve and Julie Rakus opted to have 68 solar panels installed on various parts of their Washington Township home’s multi-level roof. Under contract, they lease the panels and will pay $220 monthly to the California-based solar company that has installers in New Jersey and other states. Their system, which has been up and running since Oct. 23, would have cost them $58,000, Steve Rakus said.

If their solar installation does not generate enough electricity at less-sunny times, their electricity is supplied by Atlantic City Electric, to which they pay about $5 a month to remain connected to the grid.

“I pay a discounted rate from what I would pay the electric company,” Steve Rakus said. “My budget bill with Atlantic City Electric was $274 each month, so it’s about a $50 saving a month. My new budget bill would have been $349,” he said.

Rakus said he and his wife have lived in their two-story, 2,400-square-foot home for 30 years and plan to be there many more. He wants to be able to control their expenses in retirement. Companies that lease solar panels typically offer a power purchase agreement with a monthly payment based on previous household energy usage.

According to the company’s website, “installs, finances, insures, monitors and maintains the solar system on a homeowner’s roof, while families typically pay for the electricity at a rate lower than their current utility.”

Beyond the rooftop solar panels, there are two inverter boxes on one side of the Rakus home that convert the sun’s energy into power that can be used from electric outlets and for lighting and other wired fixtures. Inside the four-bedroom 1985 Colonial, there’s no change beyond a basement panel to disconnect from solar energy.

What they renovated

Their home’s power system by installing roof-top panels for solar energy

How long it took

The job took 5 days. “What takes all the time is the approval of the electric company,” Steve Rakus said. “They have an inspector come and see it. We have a big system, and a bunch of crews were working on it.”

How much it cost

The installation would have cost $58,000, Steve Rakus said, but couple paid nothing up front in a lease agreement.

Where they splurged

Their large system requires 68 solar panels to cover their household energy requirements, including year-round use of a hot tub.

How they saved

Installing the system lowered their electric bill. Their monthly payment will remain the same for 20 years.

What they like most

“We are pleased with how it looks and how it works.”

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