You'd be hard put to claim that Charlie Copeland doesn't practice what he preaches.

As a state senator, he serves on the energy committee, strongly supports measures to promote renewable energy sources and is an advocate for a clean environment. As a private citizen, the rear slope of the roof of his home in Christiana Hundred is about maxed out with solar panels.

Given the extent his enthusiasm for solar, it might be hard to believe it is just coincidence that the house is on Sunnyside Road.

He acknowledges that not every house nor every family is susceptible to following his example in the same proportions, but said taking whatever steps in that direction that are now possible is well worth considering if for no other reason than that it makes economic sense.

Sometime in the not totally unimaginable future, when solar technology advances to a point where efficiency of the panels is significantly increased and the cost of fossil fuels escalates to a level where serious commercialization becomes attractive, it will be possible for folks to generate enough power not only to supply their homes but also their battery-operated cars, he said.

"We won't need the electric company or the oil company."

It's not possible to predict when that day will come, but Copeland said the relatively small preliminary

State Senator Charles Copeland (left) explains that sometimes the electricity meter in his home runs backward. Thirty solar panels on the roof supply more than half of the house's power.

steps he has taken point to what lies in store.

For instance, at enough times to be noticeable, the electricity meter in his home runs in reverse. He is, in effect, selling some of the juice his system produces back to Delmarva Power. State law requires that the utility credit customers dollar-for-dollar for up to 2 megawatts generated. He was a co-sponsor of legislation that upped that from the first 25 kilowatts.

Maximum generation from Copeland's 30 panels is 6 kilowatts. The number of panels that anyone can install depends upon the amount of  

roof space they have available. The state will subsidize half of the investment, through a tax credit, up to $22,500.

Solar generation, of course, occurs only during the day and varies depending on cloud cover. But unlike electricity that is transmitted conventionally, solar power is stored in cells until needed. Overall, Copeland said, his panels provide, on balance over the year, somewhere between half and two-thirds of his family's consumption.

He is taking steps, such as installing new windows, to make his 55-year-old house more energy efficient, he said.

He estimates that his solar system will pay for itself in energy-cost savings in about 12 years. "If I'm here 15 years or more, I'll be making money," he said.

Copeland said he is supportive of wind power as an alternative-energy source and has contracted with Washington Gas Energy Services, a Delmarva Power competitor in the retail market, to supply half of his purchase with wind-generated electricity. At present Washington Gas charges a 15% premium for that option.

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Posted on November 19, 2007

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