DISH — While many miles of natural gas pipeline lay below ground, solar panels are starting to pop up on rooftops in this town of 201.
Solar panels were installed at Town Hall about a year ago, according to town employee Amber Smith. One retired couple also installed solar panels on their home about a year ago.
This week, about two-dozen residents came to a regular town meeting to hear from a renewable energy company about what to expect if they choose to install a home solar-collection system.
“Being who we are, we want to be as friendly as possible to renewable energy,” Mayor Bill Sciscoe said.
Dish first hit national headlines when it changed its name from Clark in a 2005 deal with the satellite television provider, giving its residents free satellite television for 10 years. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart satirized the feud between the first mayor, L.E. Clark, and Bill Merritt, who defeated him by one vote.
But these days, Dish is more likely known for its outspoken efforts to preserve its rural quality of life in the face of a burgeoning shale gas industry. More than 20 pipelines converge in the 2-square-mile town — and three metering stations and 11 compressor stations service those pipelines.
The town’s ordinance for wind generators is about as accommodating as it could be, Sciscoe said, given height considerations and the potential for noise. Wind generators can sometimes drone when they need maintenance, Sciscoe said, “and then neighbors could be less neighborly.”
North Texas wind patterns also aren’t as reliable as those in western parts of the state, according to Rusty Speed, of Plano-based Axium Solar, which also sells and installs wind generators.
Moreover, solar collection systems have decreased in price in recent years, Speed told residents. In addition to federal tax credits, some power companies will occasionally rebate some of the cost of installing a system. In North Texas, for example, Oncor has “Take a Load Off Texas,” a program that includes rebates for those with a solar-collection system from time to time.
As a result, most systems, which can last 25 years, can pay for themselves in as little as seven years, Speed said.
Most range from 2 kilowatts to 10 kilowatts, with an average system being a 5-kilowatt system that costs about $20,000. After credits and rebates, the final cost can be reduced to about $7,000 out of pocket, Speed said. Some people lease or finance their solar systems, but it’s more cost-effective to pay for them outright, he said.
Speed said it took several years to cobble together the cash and the rebate to install a system at his home.
Dish resident Chuck Pegg said the system on his house saved him about $1,400 in electricity last year. Sometimes his electric bill is just a few dollars. Other times, the power company owes him a check.
Some residents worried about hail damage, but Speed told them solar panels are made to survive the most common hailstorms — golf ball-sized hail falling at about 52 mph. Prospective customers should look for the storm ratings by Underwriters Laboratories.
His company has installed residential and commercial systems that can generate a combined total of more than 3.8 megawatts in North Texas in the past five years and has replaced only a few solar panels damaged by hail, he said. They recently took down the system on one home in Lakewood, after a catastrophic hailstorm June 13, so the roof could be repaired. The system itself wasn’t damaged, Speed said.
Sciscoe asked about recent improvements in inverters — the boxes that convert the solar energy into electrical current. Some early systems had reportedly reduced the life of electronics and appliances, according to Speed, but that, too, has improved.
However, Speed cautioned residents to first make sure their homes were as energy-efficient as possible.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the average Texas home uses 1,130 kilowatts-per-hour each month and pays about 13.04 cents per kwh, or about $147.32 per month. That compares to the U.S. average of 920 kwh at 11.26 cents per kwh, or about $103.67 per month.
“Invest in efficiency first — that gets you the most for your money — then renewable energy,” Speed said.
Some of the more inexpensive power-saving measures include switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and upgrading insulation, Speed said.
Many electricity providers will perform a home energy audit for free, including CoServ, Denton Municipal Electric and Oncor. Some also provide rebates and other incentives to defray the cost of purchasing more energy-efficient items. Depending on the provider and funds available, consumers can get free light bulbs and rebates for replacing old appliances with new, qualifying appliances, including home heating and air-conditioning systems.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .