Rented panels could give solar energy a boost

It’s a way to go green without spending a lot of green: A new, low-price option could bring more solar panels to area neighborhoods.

Holly Ramirez is going solar and setting up solar panels at a Rockville house. But she's not writing a check for tens of thousands of dollars to buy a system. Instead, Ramirez signed a 20-year lease, a new option for residents in Maryland and the District that can cut the up-front cost down to zero.

The system won’t cover the entire electric bill, but it will make for signifigant savings per month. “In the winter time, we're hoping we can adjust our usage to possibly even make the meter run backwards,” Ramirez said.

Turning the meter backwards would earn a credit instead of a bill. While the solar market grew 67 percent in 2010, getting started can be pricey. Government incentives made it possible for the Florida Avenue Baptist Church to go solar, but system were still costs around $30,000.

Solar City, the company behind the leased solar panels, captures the tax benefits for the systems.

A five kilawatt system will knock out about $80 a month, according to Lee Keshishian of Solar City. He said renters may pay around $60 a month in lease payments.

In the first month of offering the leases in our area the company signed up 20 homeowners, four times a typical month in sales, it said. Solar City expects to more than double its workforce in Maryland this year to keep up with growing demand.