Thursday, July 12, 2012

Solar Panels Crop up in New Orleans

A new development of affordable housing in Central City, a neighborhood plagued by blight and abandoned houses, is seeing a flourishing of solar panels.

The Times-Picayune reports that residents in the Harmony Neighborhood Development are putting solar panels on their homes.

The development, being built by a nonprofit, is being constructed using federal funding to convert blighted and vacant properties into the new affordable housing.

So far three residents in the neighborhood have solar panels and there are plans to put them on at least 11 more homes this year thanks to funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Entergy New Orleans has approximately 760 customers who are connected to its grid who use solar panels, according to Entergy spokesperson Jolen Stein.

Denise Patton, a new homeowner in the Harmony development, said she was looking forward to getting her first utility bill in the mail.

She expected to cut her power costs by 50 percent or more.

Falling prices of solar panels have made the equipment attractive to consumers in recent years.

But Harmony and other nonprofit developers have been able to afford solar panels, once considered too expensive and out of reach of such projects, through an initiative from Make It Right, which established a separate, for-profit entity to leverage the available tax credits and lower the upfront costs for others.

Under the deal, Make It Right Solar buys the equipment and pays for its installation, covering up to 80 percent of the cost of the panels with federal and state tax credits. From there, developers are on the hook for the remainder of the cost, working out to about $5,000 to $7,000 per unit.

In Central City, where eight homes equipped with the panels have been built by Harmony, residents have taken notice.

"That's a significant number for this area, and through Make It Right and our partnerships, we were one of the first entities to be able to install solar panels in Central City," said Charles Cutno, project manager for the group.

Cutno said that while the solar arrays would typically cost between $15,000 and $24,000 each, the arrangement has enabled the costs to drop to around $3,400 to $6,000, depending on the size of the system.

Overall, Make It Right Solar has done about 45 installations outside of the Lower 9th Ward, where the Brad Pitt-led push to rebuild the storm-ravaged neighborhood with affordable, energy-efficient housing got its start.


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