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Solar power device catches some rays

Staff writer

Herb Bartel of rural Hillsboro had a solar power system installed this summer at his home northeast of Hillsboro and quickly realized how effective it was.

Bartel said in 10 days it produced as much electricity as he used in a month. His solar panel is a 22-foot-by-10-foot freestanding structure and has a clear view of the southern sky.

“You want it to catch the sun as soon as it’s up, and we have a place that does that,” he said.

Such a large installation isn’t cheap, but grants are available from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development program, Bartel said.

The system directly produces electricity without any kind of turbines. It doesn’t use batteries — when the solar panels produce more electricity than Bartel uses, he is credited for the excess as it enters the electrical grid.

Bartel and his wife, Pat, bought the solar panels as part of their philosophy on energy policy.

“I just believe strongly in renewable energy,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how to make the transition.”

Electricity generation isn’t the only way to harness solar power, said Nick King of King’s Solar, Wind and Plumbing of rural Hillsboro. Solar energy can be used to heat water or a home, he said.

King has a solar water heater at his home. He said it probably will be able to operate exclusively with solar heat until mid-October.

Solar power can provide long-term savings, but he said most of his customers install solar power systems because they feel environmental stewardship is important.

“It’s a commitment to be responsible for the environment and the future,” King said.

Solar power’s popularity peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, when large tax credits were available. There is still a 30 percent federal tax credit for qualifying renewable energy projects, King said.

Wind has supplanted solar power as the most popular technology for renewable electricity, he said. The ability to see a wind turbine turning probably contributes to that, he said.

“But solar gives you a better bang for your buck,” King said.

Last modified Oct. 7, 2010

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