At 1 Lafayette house, all power from the sun

LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA - Mary Scheps' monthly electric bill? $4.12.

Doing her part to protect the environment? Priceless.

Scheps is Lafayette's first resident to generate all of her electricity from solar power.

More than a dozen solar panels on her roof produce enough energy to power her entire home, with enough left over to share with her neighbors.

The system has reduced her electric bill to a $4.12 customer service fee.

The excess power it generates is credited to her utility bill.

But money isn't her motivation for solar power. She's worried about conserving natural resources.

"I believe... we should make choices that benefit our descendants, our country and our planet," she said.

"And if these choices require sacrifices, then we should be willing to make them."

Solar power has grown exponentially in the past few years, but still makes up less than 1 percent of the power supply. The large initial investment deters most homeowners. But financial aid such as rebates, tax credits and the ability to sell excess energy back to a grid are making solar panels more attractive to homeowners.

Scheps' entire system cost about $26,000, but incentives and credits should knock that down to about $6,000.

Energy savings should pay for the system in about 10 years, according to the Baton Rouge company that installed it.

Scheps' system generates an average 360 kilowatt hours of power each month.

For an average household, that would be about one-third of the total. But it's more than enough for Scheps, who uses less than half the power her solar system produces.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council recently passed a net metering ordinance that would let LUS customers connect their solar panels or other alternative energy sources to the city's power grid.

Any customer generating more "green energy" than they consume would be eligible for a credit on their utility bill, which can be redeemed when they disconnect their service.

Scheps became the first residential customer to connect to the city's grid. Since her net metering system was installed, she has generated more than 800 kilowatt hours of electricity while consuming less than 400.

Conserving resources is nothing new to Scheps. She became interested in conservation around the time of the nation's first Earth Day in 1970.

"I just became aware of... the way we were using up the resources of the planet too fast," she said. "It just worried me because it looked like we needed to turn it around."

To this day, Scheps dries her laundry on a clothesline instead of using an electric dryer or iron, and rides her bike instead of driving a car. She uses fans instead of air conditioning to cool her home, and lets in sunlight rather than turning on light bulbs.

"I do everything I know to do, and I am eager for more suggestions," she said.

Lafayette Utilities System has no current plans to invest in renewable resources because of additional costs, said director Terry Huval.

But the company encourages customers to do so on their own through the net metering program.

"If customers invest in renewables, the city becomes greener at the initiative of the customers themselves," Huval said. "So, it's a positive thing for the community as a whole."


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