Saturday, February 4, 2012

Home Builder Makes Solar Power Standard in Apopka

Capitalizing on a federal renewable-energy tax credit, KB Homes expects to be the first production builder in Florida to include solar-energy panels as a standard feature on new houses in select communities.

The Los Angeles-based builder rolled out the photovoltaic cells as a standard feature in its Southern California communities last year and, on Thursday, began installing them on its model home at the Apopka-area Fisher Plantation community, which has about 52 lots left and prices starting in the low $200,000s.

"We rolled this out in Southern California, and buyers found it to be a no brainer," said George Glance, president of KB Homes Central Florida Division. "It doesn't cost them anything, and they get the savings."

Lake Mary-based SunHouse Solar Engery is providing the panels, which are attached to rooftops. Once installed, the base unit is expected to generate 1.4 kilowatts of power and shave about 30 percent off utility costs.

KB Homes has estimated that a homeowner will save more than $1,200 annually, compared with a typical resale home, in a solar-powered house with three bedrooms.

The base-model panels at the houses being built in Fisher Plantation retail for $10,800 and buyers qualify for a 30-percent tax break, worth $3,240, from the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.

KB sells larger, more powerful panels capable of generating greater savings – and larger tax credits. In addition to targeting photovoltaic solar panels, the tax rebate also covers solar thermal and small wind and geothermal heat pumps. Initially part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded as art of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the credit expires in 2016.

Glance said that the units didn't add on that much to the price of the house because KB was able to purchase them in bulk. When you compare the price by square foot in nearby new communities, it doesn't reflect an upcharge for the solar, he added. He said the panels complement the homes' insulated windows, upgraded insulation and Energy Star appliances.

Stephen Barkaszi, a Florida Solar Energy Center program director for photovoltaic systems, said this is not a breakthrough as much as it is a step at reducing some of the barriers homeowners encounter when they want to install solar. Whether the base model generates $1,000 in utility savings a year depends on utility costs and other energy-efficient features in the house, he added.

"Something as small as 1.4 kilowatts is at least something," Barkaszi said. "It's a whole lot better than nothing. It's been tough for people to go out of their way to get it added on as an option."

Other builders in Central Florida, such as Rey Homes, have been offering solar water heaters and solar electric as an option for several years. But few, if any, mid- to large-size builders have been adding panels as a standard feature.


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