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Putting dollars behind those green ambitions

The sun is relected in a photovoltiac panel

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: This election season, Marketplace is trying to get at the Real Agenda, the issues that genuinely make a difference to you. Near the top of the list is the environment. But it's easy to say 'I support the environment.' Doing something about it is another matter. Here's a good example: California wants to build a million solar roofs in the next decade. Will people go for it or not? From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


SARAH GARDNER: In an upscale suburb on the west side of Los Angeles, the neighbors haven't really noticed Wenise Wong's latest purchase. That's because it's on her flat rooftop: 18 solar panels generate enough electricity to power Wong's home and hopefully, zero out her monthly power bill.
WENISE WONG:"I have an environmental mind and I also had thought a lot about the power crisis we had in California a couple years ago and have been moved by all the global warming stories and thought, well this is time."

Wong's solar roof is among 25,000 in California right now. The state wants to boost that to a million. This year California committed over $3 billion to fund solar rebates over the next decade.

Without those rebates, Wong's solar panels and installation would have cost $27,000 dollars. But the rebates knocked nearly a third off the price. Wong's husband Eric Barron:

ERIC BARRON: "After the rebate it might be about 12 years before it has paid for itself."

That's part of the problem, say marketers of solar technology.

RICK WHITE:"I think it's an economic evaluation of cost effectiveness."

Rick White is president of California Solar in Simi Valley. He says interest in his products is way up but interest doesn't always translate into a purchase. Californians may want to save the planet, but for most of them, the bottom line still counts.

WHITE:"Obviously if the cost effectiveness was five years or three years we would have more people doing it."

That's why California plans to jumpstart its program with a mandate on new homes. Starting in 2011 developers building more than 50 houses in a single California subdivision must offer solar as a standard option.

State officials predict many homebuyers will bite. The solar will come already installed so it's hassle-free. It'll also cost less. Experts say it's always cheaper to build a system into a new home than add one later.

Daniel Kammen is a professor in the Energy Resources Group at UC Berkeley:

DANIEL KAMMEN:"I predict that in ten years if you build a house or small business in California and don't build in some local generation, be it solar as the most likely one, or something else I think that's going to be seen as weird. And that's a really good form of weird."

Kammen says the next logical step will be to let solar users profit by selling their excess power back to the grid. Germany's doing it and solar panel sales in that country are booming.

Conservation goes down a whole lot easier, it seems, with a little green.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.
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