By Elaine VonCannon, ABR, SRES, Associate Broker, Notary, Team Leader, Property Manager, Award Winning Agent
According to the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association "the electric utility industry is the largest source of pollution in our country. Electric utilities generate 66% of the sulfur oxide pollutants, for example. The average home generates about 22,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year through electricity use and heating." Green building trends, promoted by the government through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, are sweeping the nation. Homes and businesses cause less pollution when they generate electricity from renewable energy sources. In return for responsible investments green builders and homeowners receive tax credits and can sell their excess energy to their local electric company. This makes the return on investment for electrical systems powered by wind, solar and hydro (water) energy worth the effort.
Tax credits are better than tax deductions. A tax deduction lowers tax by a percentage, but a tax credit lowers tax dollar-for-dollar. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE) the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) "offers consumers and businesses federal tax credits beginning in January 2006 for purchasing fuel-efficient hybrid-electric vehicles and energy efficient appliances and products." Home buyers and owners now have the opportunity to itemize these purchases on their federal income tax return and the credits are applied to the amount they owe the government. There are also state tax incentives for energy efficient homes. The DOE states that, "consumers who purchase and install specific products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, and heating and cooling equipment in the home can receive a tax credit of up to $500 beginning in January 2006." The DOE also states, "the EPACT also provides a credit equal to 30% of qualifying expenditures for purchase for qualified photovoltaic [solar electric systems] property and for solar water heating property used exclusively for purposes other than heating swimming pools and hot tubs." There are other opportunities for environmentally conscious businesses, home buyers and builders to save money on federal taxes. For more information about EPACT regulations visit the DOE web site at www.energy.gov.
The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), established in 1995, reports that Virginia offers some state tax incentives for homeowners with solar and wind energy systems. According to www.dsireusa.org commercial, industrial and residential sectors using recycling equipment, passive solar space heat, solar water heat, solar space heat, solar thermal electric and/or photovoltaics are eligible for property tax exemptions in certain cities and counties in Virginia, such as Hampton, Isle of Wight, King and Queen, Price William and others. Virginia also offers the Virginia Small Wind Incentives Program (VSWIP). Commercial, industrial, residential, nonprofit, schools, agricultural and institutional sectors have received state grants given by the James Madison University (JMU) Office of the Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative (VWEC) to buy and install small wind energy systems. These grants have been limited to a total of ten projects.
There are three basic alternative systems that can be created to generate electricity off the grid: solar power, wind power and water power. All three of these systems must be built in accordance with state and local regulations and they must be customized to fit your home and property. Although alternative electricity can require an initial investment, many green homeowners currently off the grid make money back quickly because they avoid high utility bills. In many cases homeowners receive payments from the local electric company for the excess electricity the home systems generate. When considering an electric alternative you must consider your location, home structure and size, local environmental conditions and local and state laws. It is recommended that home buyers, builders or owners interested in alternatives research the options carefully and consult experts for advice. A local or online expert will explain if wind, solar (photovoltaic) or hydro power is the best option for your home and the positives and negatives of each. You will then need to learn about the variety of systems available and the amount of energy you can expect to generate. You may opt to use an alternative system as a supplement to the power you purchase from the electric company or a stand alone system to live completely off the grid. Whatever route you choose living off the grid will open your eyes to a new kind of living more and more homeowners are discovering every day.