Ask the Architect

Hoping to go solar


Q. We’re thinking about running our house on batteries, the same as our plan to have a charging station and an electric car. We ordered the car and charging station, but are getting conflicting information about having battery panels from a solar collection roof so we can save even more and be more environmentally sensitive. What can you tell us about the situation?

A. My solar experience started when I began working with panels in 1977. The new president, Jimmy Carter, had solar panels installed on the White House, and I naively thought we were moving toward energy independence after the terrible years of the early-’70s oil embargo, with long lines at gas pumps. But it didn’t last. Carter’s successor, President Ronald Reagan, had the solar panels removed because of a roof leak, and that ended the recognition of alternate-energy sources for many years.
There’s a picture in my office of me standing with Gov. George Pataki after I gave him a tour of the first residential solar panel installation on Long Island. It became part of the Lilco energy program, in which you could get a $1,000 reduction on your annual electric bill, and the state rebate was signed into law at that event. Because I was there at the beginning, I have a foundation of belief in solar, but my realistic vantage point may not sit well with solar consumers or sellers. I was the one who sat in meetings with Lilco research-and-development personnel, and sold the idea that solar investment made sense, because they could buy generated power for less than 10 cents on the dollar from people’s solar panels and still sell it back for $1 and not have to spend tons of money on new power plants. Let the people generate the power for them. They loved the idea when I explained it that day.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they’re not generating power for their own homes. The inverter that comes with your system sends the power from your roof right back on to the power grid, to be distributed back through your meter for you to pay for what your system produced for free. The maximum discount is still the $1,000 off, so that’s why it takes many years to pay for an average system, which costs around $18,000. If you lease, then the rebate that can reduce the cost by as much as $5,000 goes directly to the leasing company, not you. Nice profit up front for the leasing company, while you accumulate the savings over a much longer time period.
Even though more burdened systems, like California and Massachusetts utilities, have policies that rebate and encourage utilizing your own battery backup power in an essentially off-the-grid manner that allows the utility to avoid major power failures, your local utility, so far, has no such program that I’m aware of. At $8,000 to $10,000 for each pack, I have yet to see one installed locally. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.