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Pismo family sees electricity bill go from $400 a month to $5 with solar panels

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Phil and Lanie Koziel are living the American dream.

The family of five lives in a newer 4,000-square-foot, ocean-view home in Pismo Beach full of modern conveniences, including two refrigerators, a hot tub and lots of lights and electrical appliances.

There was just one problem: their PG&E bill was killing them. They were paying more than $400 a month for electricity.

“It just kept going up and up and up,” Lanie said.

They decided they had to do something. Phil, branch manager of Coast Hills Federal Credit Union in San Luis Obispo, carefully researched his options, including installing a wind turbine.

Four months ago, he settled on a 7.5-kilowatt rooftop solar system from REC Solar in San Luis Obispo. It took the technicians three days to install the 35 photovoltaic panels.

The Koziels decided to go whole-hog. Their solar system is big enough to supply an average of 110 percent of their electrical needs.

PG&E installed a new meter when the solar panels were put in. The new meter has never run forward, only backward, meaning the system is feeding small amounts of excess electricity into the grid. The family is able to bank that surplus electricity using a program called net metering.

The effect of the new system on the family’s electric bill was dramatic. It went from $415 to $5 a month. The $5 is a fee PG&E charges to be connected to the grid.

After the first of the year, state energy officials are expected to approve a plan whereby families like the Koziels can sell their excess power to PG&E for a modest fee. The solar panels will start making them money.

“It’s the best investment I’ve ever made,” Phil said. “Part of my retirement plan is the solar panels on my roof.”

In spite of the benefits of the solar installation, it took Phil a while to persuade Lanie to sign off on the deal. That’s because solar installations are expensive — in their case more than $47,000.

The family was able to take advantage of a package of state and federal incentives that covered $18,000. But they had to get a 15-year loan to cover the remaining $29,000. Solar system retailers say most homeowners would be happy with a smaller, less expensive system than the one the Koziels opted for.

The fact that the family’s PG&E bill has been virtually eliminated more than covers the monthly loan payments, so now Lanie is equally happy with the decision. She doesn’t have to worry if their 11-year-old daughter or twin 4-year-old boys accidentally leave the lights on or play video games.

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