Plugging Into the Sun

While the average home solar system is about five kilowatts, Mr. Felton's is 45 kilowatts, and he seldom sees an electric bill. Borrego Solar estimated the system could save Mr. Felton almost $2 million over 30 years - far more than the $255,000 the system cost him after a $134,000 rebate.

Published: 04-Jan-2007

WILLIAM LEININGER is not your typical environmental zealot. A Navy commander who works as a doctor at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, he is a Republican and lives in one of California’s most conservative counties, in a development of neat lawns and Spanish-style houses. His 2,400-square-foot, single-level house — “the usual Southern California design,” he said recently — is barely distinguishable from its neighbors, apart from one detail: the red-tile roof is crammed with solar panels.

Dr. Leininger, 42, is one of thousands of Californians, many of them unlikely converts to the cause of alternative energy, who have installed solar power systems in their homes in just the last year.

Spurred by recent legislation that provides financial incentives — and by rising energy costs and, perhaps, by a lingering distrust of power companies in the aftermath of the California electricity crisis at the start of the decade — homeowners across the state have come to see solar power as a way to conserve money as well as natural resources. Architects in California are routinely designing solar systems into custom homes, and developers are offering solar systems and solar-ready wiring in new spec houses and subdivisions.

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