Tours of Homes Focus on Solar Panels

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During tours of various Berkeley homes and buildings Saturday, advocates of renewable energy touted solar panels as an effective way to reduce the long-term cost of power.

Ed Nold, a Northern California Solar Energy Association board member,showed houses that use solar energy to an amalgam of architects, homeowners and interested residents for the National Solar Home Tour.

The guides showed homes around the East Bay which use solar power, including Casa Zimbabwe, one of UC Berkeley's cooperative houses. The co-op uses solar panels to heat water.

Teo Christos, the house manager of Casa Zimbabwe, said the house uses solar energy for both environmental and financial reasons.

"(The solar panels) were installed for ideology's sake and to cut down the bill in the long run," Christos said.

Forty solar panels were installed in 1979 to provide hot water for the approximately 120 people who live in the house. Other co-ops in Berkeley that have solar panels to heat water include Hoyt Hall, Cloyne Court, Fenwick Weavers' Village and Andres Castro Arms, according to the Northern California Solar Energy Association.

Many people are interested in solar energy because of environmental ethics and a recent reduction in the price of solar panels, said Doug Wilkins, a freelance writer and potential solar panel buyer.

"People can now afford to think environmentally," Wilkins said, citing new government subsidies for solar energy and the increase in resale value of houses that have solar panels.

In March 1998, the state of California provided $54 million to establish the California Emerging Renewable Buy-Down Program, which pays for either $3 per watt of energy used by a homeowner or half the cost of a solar system, according to a statement provided by the Sun Light and Power company.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s people were very interested in using solar power, but a cut in tax credits in 1985 discouraged many people from purchasing solar panels until now, Gerber said.

Stuart Chaitkin, a homeowner who uses solar power for electricity and water heating, said that after the deregulation of power companies, Pacific Gas and Electric began to pay for excess solar energy allotted to its power grid.

Chaitkin said that he saved $288 last year and calculated that it will take 20 to 30 years to pay back the cost of installation of the water and electric systems. He said, however, that he has already earned the cost of the installation back in the increased value of his house.


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