A different slant on solar

Solar energy is a proven, safe and effective method of providing power and conserving energy resources, but the cost — in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $40,000 for a full-house system — has prohibited most potential buyers from taking advantage of it.

An East Coast company is trying to lower the upfront cost of going solar by offering to rent solar systems.

Citizenre, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., has been peddling its concept in Oregon and other states, most recently with a booth at last month's Jackson County Home Show.

The company wants to rent solar panels to home-owners for one, five or 25-year periods. After an initial deposit, the company would secure any necessary permits, then install, monitor and repair the panels.

The homeowner would pay a monthly fee, which is estimated to be close to what they currently pay for electricity. The company says there is no minimum fee and the rate would be guaranteed for the length of the contract, a nice incentive in this time of rapidly rising energy bills. The agreement could be canceled any time, but the deposit is non-refundable.

"We differ from the competition because we make the rental contract easy to get in and out of and the volume of consumers will keep the prices low," says Erika Morgan, a company spokesperson. "We are removing the barriers to make solar energy available to more people. It's a fee for service with none of the risk or obligation of ownership."

The Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that offers incentives to homeowners who use solar energy, says the rental idea is worth considering, though the group stops short of endorsing the concept until more is known.

"It certainly gives potential customers a different option," says Kacia Brockman, solar program manager for Energy Trust. "Do I prefer to own my system or do I want to rent? The question is, 'When can someone see an installation in their home?'"

The answer to that question is a bit fuzzy. Morgan says the company is planning to build a solar production facility next year, and begin providing solar-electric service to Oregon homeowners before the end of 2008. To date, 783 people in Oregon have asked for information about the rental program, she says.

"Our challenge is going to be keeping up with the demand so people don't have to wait so long for the panels," Morgan says optimistically. "We're committed to minimizing the wait."

For more information on the solar rental program go to solarsolutionsnow.net or jointhesolution.com/suncor.

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