Investing in solar energy continues to receive support from federal, state and county governments in the form of tax incentives.
Earlier this month, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino signed legislation into law that extends a sales tax exemption on solar panels that was set to expire this fall.
"This bill should stimulate the purchase of this equipment and help reduce reliance on non-renewable sources of energy," said Astorino. "This is a small but meaningful action, which is part of our effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels."
The county's current sales tax rate is 7.375 percent, and slightly more in Mount Vernon, Yonkers, White Plains.
Some Rye homeowners have already taken advantage of the county tax incentive, and a few of the community's businesses and schools have installed solar panels as well.
Carpet Trends, a business is Rye, recently installed a solar energy package through the Port Chester-based company Mercury Solar Systems. Last May, Resurrection School and School of the Holy Child in Rye also invested in solar paneling.
Resurrection School Principal Howard Nielsen told Patch that the project cost $123,000, but that the school had applied for a grant which would have covered the entire cost. He said that the panels would save the school 31 percent in energy costs.
Bob Stickney, vice-president of sales for Mercury Solar Systems, said that the county's incentive will make going solar more affordable for homeowners.
"We believe it will further ignite Westchester residents to invest in this alternative energy source," he said. "When you combine this with the other incentives in place today, a homeowner can reduce the cost of an average system from $25,000 to $3,000.”
On a $25,000 system, the county's incentive would reduce the final cost, before other write-offs and tax breaks, by $1,843.
New York State offers a rebate on systems of up to seven kilowatts through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. A residential income tax credit is also issued for up to $5,000, depending on the size of the solar system.
On the federal level, a renewable energy grant of 30 percent of the costs is available if construction on the project begins by December 31, 2011. This grant was initially offered as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was extended last year. The maximum grant allowed is $1,500 per 0.5 kilowatt of fuel cells installed.
Judith Martin, owner of Green Home Consulting in Rye, said that she supports all solar energy tax breaks, but urges homeowners to look at ways to conserve energy in their homes before investing in solar panels.
"I'm a very strong believer that homeowners should be looking at conservation measures before they invest in solar energy," she said. "Conservation measures save about three times as much as switching to solar."
Martin explained that the highest energy use in the typical home is for heating, air conditioning and water heaters. She recommends that homeowners address those costs by making sure to seal air conditioning ducts, maintaining equipment annually and cleaning both heat and AC filters. For water heaters, she said it's important to keep the thermostat as low as possible, and turn it down completely while on vacation.