HelioPower client, James Price, made local news in Lompoc this weekend.  His ground mount solar power system was on display in the city's first ever, "Central Coast Solar Tour."  The tour, part of the national effort to showcase solar power systems, featured four solar power systems in the Lompoc and Santa Maria area.

Covering the event, Lompoc News writer Glenn Wallace, posted this article, "Residents look to solar energy for savings" featuring Price's solar experience and savings record.

In August 2008 something funny began happening to Jim Price’s electric meter — it started going backward.

“There it goes — tic, tic, tic,” Price said watching the digital display flash an arrow to the left instead of the right.

Occasionally the display flashes all zeroes, indicating he is using less energy than the backyard solar panel system is actually pumping into the electrical grid, to be used by his neighbors and local businesses. His energy bills — they used to be more than $120 a month — sport more zeros.

Price’s house was just one of five around Lompoc partaking in the National Solar Tour on Saturday.

Jim Riggens, an Air Force retiree and self-described environmentalist, helped bring the tour to Lompoc, and to five other sites in Santa Maria, as part of the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) national education and publicity campaign.

Riggens is trying to get his neighbors to consider solar energy.

“What struck me was why, in a place where you have so much sunshine, how few roofs have solar panels?” Riggens asked.

One of the biggest misconceptions most home owners seem to have is that a solar panel system is too exotic or prohibitively expensive, Riggens said.

“It’s very common for builders. It’s off the shelf. It’s not in a laboratory, and it’s not experimental,” Riggens said.

And as for the money? Riggens just points to Price.

Installing the 4,400-watt, solar panel system in his back yard cost $34,531, Price said. However, after last year’s city and state rebates, and a $2,000 tax credit from the federal government, his final cost became $19,250.

“Yes, there is an investment, but in the long term, he’s flattened down his energy costs,” Riggens said.

On average, Riggens and two of the solar panel installation experts on the tour all said current rebates and tax credits have improved, and the panels now cost less. Within seven to 10 years most systems finish paying for themselves. Since the systems have no moveable parts, they are expected to easily function without major repair for 25 years, meaning quite a few years of profit for people such as Price.

According to Riggens, there is also a property tax exemption for home value increases based on improvements such as a solar panel system.

“So it’s a better return on your investment than redoing that kitchen with granite countertops.”

On top of the money saved, Riggens said there was also the thousands of pounds of carbon emissions home owners could be saving the environment as well.

“There’s two types of people who put in a system,” said Mary Kammer, Lompoc’s utility conservation coordinator. “Those who want to be green, and those who want to beat the system.”

Whichever their motives, so far there are 15 residential solar panel systems installed in the city, with another two in the process.

Lompoc is one of the few cities in California to actually buy electricity back, so Price and anyone else with a bigger system and smaller usage will be receiving a check at the end of the year for generating more than he uses, according to Kammer.

Lompoc Councilwoman Cecilia Martner was on hand at the Price house to learn more about solar power herself. She praised him for “having the vision to move ahead with something like this.”

“The sun is right there, and it’s free,” said Martner.

“Nature provides us with all these things, and all we need to do is make use of them,” Price added.

A home on Moonglow Avenue in Vandenberg Village represents what Riggens called a holistic approach to green design.

The owner, who asked that his name be withheld, said he and his wife had designed the home to include many energy-efficient features, including 100 percent energy generation from his panels, as well as a solar-powered hot water heater and heating system. The couple also had the house plumbed to use shower and sink “greywater” for irrigation.

“We decided to go ‘green’ now because of what might be coming up with energy prices,” said Keith, the Moonglow owner.

Riggens said he plans on having the solar tour become an annual event, and eventually hopes to extend it to include from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.

For more information about solar power, or to find solar installation firms in the area, visit www.ases.org.

For more information and additional photos of the Price solar install, click here.