Going Solar Without Spending a Lot of Dough

PHOTO: Solar panels are seen on the garage of the Christensen home in Lakeside, California.
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It's not often that a homeowner looks forward to a bill arriving in the mail. But Chad Tromblee eagerly awaits one bill in particular.

"I can't wait to get it and see what the electric bill is," he told ABC News. These days, his electric bill has shrunk as quickly as a puddle on a hot sidewalk. For the month of April, it totaled just $16.54.

Tromblee, who lives with his wife in a three-bedroom home near Albany, N.Y., hasn't turned off the refrigerator and washing machine or switched off his lights. He drove his electric bill into the cellar by putting solar panels on his roof.

"I start making electricity like 6 in the morning, and usually produce it until 8 p.m. at night," said Tromblee. In April a year ago, his roof was bare -- there were no solar panels. That month, his electricity bill l was $102.64, more than six times as high as this April.

His system was installed for only a fraction of the usual cost. That's because he and his family don't own the solar energy system, they lease it. Tromblee figures if he'd bought the solar system outright, he would have had to lay out around $46,000 for panels and installation, before any grants and tax incentives. Instead, he snagged a lease deal offered by the company SolarCity. In his case, he put down $8,000 to cover all the costs for his 20-year lease.

Across the country in Southern California, Jamie Christensen also decided leasing made sense. Christensen is a clerk at Costco with two young children and a wife who is staying home to raise their kids. The family was able to go solar with almost no money down -- just $500. Under their arrangement with SolarCity, the Christensens will pay a fee of about $100 every month for the next 20 years to lease their system. Electricity costs are on top of that, but with his solar panels doing most of the work, Christensen says the monthly electric bill runs around $28.00.

And before solar? "Our payments were anywhere from $200 to $300-plus during the high-energy months," said Christensen.

SolarCity is one of three major companies offering lease deals. It will also handle everything from permitting to instillation. The other two big companies in the business are Sunrun and Sungevity.

SolarCity Spokesman Jonathan Bass says the lease deals are making solar more accessible to a wider range of homeowners and businesses people.

"The key is to make solar attractive to more customers," said Bass. "There was a certain customer that was going to write a $15,000 check and understood they would get a great return on investment over 15 or 20 years." But for the customer who can't, or doesn't want to do that, "If you can offer them savings sooner that is something that appeals to them," said Bass.

Even at that, solar still won't work for everyone. "Not all homes are going to be appropriate for solar," said Bass. "You generally want a roof that is not shaded for a significant portion of the day and faces east, south or west."

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