DeKALB – A year ago, DeKalb resident Bill Klein was facing the real possibility of having to leave the home he’s lived in for more than 30 years because of his exorbitant electric bills.
Because his home ran solely on electricity, he consistently was paying thousands of dollars each winter to heat his house, which was built in the mid-1800s.
However, thanks to the 30 solar panels he installed in his backyard this summer, Klein said he’s now able to stay in his home.
Klein has been so pleased with the solar system that he was excited to participate in this weekend’s Illinois Solar Tour, which was sponsored by the Illinois Solar Energy Association and featured open houses of 145 solar homes across the state.
He said that he wants to share his experience with others and encourage more people to go solar. So far, the system has provided about half of his electricity and has considerably lowered his electric bill.
“I’m retired, and I couldn’t afford the outrageous electric bills, so I needed to find something to make my house more efficient,” he said. “I love the way it looks, and it makes me feel good that it’s environmentally friendly. The state and federal government incentives [to install solar] are great right now. The state wants green energy, and this has allowed me to stay in my home.”
Garett Schweikhofer of Sunheat Solar in Batavia installed Klein’s system and said there has been a steady increase in customers over the past few years. He said more people are interested in learning how a solar-powered system can benefit them.
Schweikhofer said solar homes still are connected to the electric grid, which continues to provide electricity at night.
“On most days, solar panels can generate nearly 100 percent of electricity needed,” he said. “They still work on cloudy days, but don’t generate quite as much electricity.”
Fred Walker, who visited Klein’s open house, installed solar panels on his winter home in Florida about three years ago, and soon will install some on his DeKalb farm. He said his electric bills in Florida went down to about $9 a month.
“I’ve already made up my mind,” Walker said. “If you have a high electric bill, it more than pays off. We have a farm, so our electric bill [in DeKalb] is high, and I was paying about $250 a month in Florida. I think more people will be going solar.”
Although Walker already made his decision, others at the open house weren’t convinced about going solar. Barb Twombly of DeKalb said she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to install solar panels on her small farm, but was curious to learn more.
“It seems to be the thing of the future, and it is renewable energy. I don’t know if there would be a benefit for me, but I want to find out,” she said. “I do have some concerns.”
Scott Sheridan of DeKalb was interested in solar, but he wasn’t sure if the savings on his electric bill would outweigh the costs of the panel installation.
“I’ve always thought about [going solar], but I’m not sure if I will,” he said. “I think it could be worth the cost, but it would have to balance out. It looks nice, and I definitely have room for it on my property.”
The Illinois Solar Energy Association has been sponsoring the solar tours for about 12 years, which is part of a nationwide initiative to allow solar homeowners to speak directly to those who are interested in learning more. Lesley McCain, executive director of ISEA, said that thanks to incentives and recently passed state legislation, there has never been a better time to go solar.
“Public education is extremely important. People still don’t know that solar is possible in Illinois,” she said. “There are two main benefits. Once the equipment is paid off, you won’t have much of an electricity bill, which is the main driver for a lot of people. And your home is being powered by clean energy. It’s not contributing to climate change.”