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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Solar power proves steady investment for Janesville man

From an article by Frank Schultz in the Janesville Press Gazette:

JANESVILLE — So you want to invest.

Stock? Too wobbly.

Interest at the banks? Scant.

A rural Janesville man has found an investment that appears to work in any economy: the sun.

The sun, which is not expected to burn out for billions of years, spills massive amounts of energy onto the Earth every day. It also puts cash into Chuck Niles’ pocket.

Niles, a retired General Motors worker, said he’s been thinking about solar power for 25 years. He got serious about it three years ago when he learned that improvements in solar technology have reduced the cost per watt considerably.

Then he heard about government programs that provide huge discounts in startup costs.

Here’s how Niles does the math:

The 90 panels on the roof of Niles’ pole barn and nearby shed on Murray Road south of Janesville cost $130,410, installation included.

A federal program known as Section 1603 of the Recovery Act paid him $39,600. The state Focus on Energy program paid him $32,603.

Niles uses about $35 worth of electricity a month in the barn. The rest goes to Alliant Energy, which pays him monthly. The checks vary with sunshine, but Niles estimates conservatively that the checks will average around $440 a month.

In the meantime, Niles is also getting a federal income-tax break from the depreciation on his investment.

When all the costs and benefits are accounted for, Niles figures his payback period is just five years. He figures his return on investment is about 12 percent.

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