Mukilteo family explains why they’re using solar to cut their heating, electric bills

It does take a certain set of priorities and a certain dent in the pocketbook to go solar.

Mary and Alan Shank of Mukilteo made that commitment in October when they shelled out, when all was said and done, about $50,000 for two solar power systems and a solar water heater.

Yes, they will see a projected payback of about $20,000 over a 15-year period. And that kind of savings might motivate some people. But for the Shanks, that’s just a little bonus.

The Shanks were more concerned about reducing their independence on oil, having a basically maintenance-free energy system and owning something that fit their values.

But their beliefs might still spell savings in the long run for the rest of us energy users.

“It’s important to be first adopters,” Mary Shank said. “That paves the way for cheaper materials and cheaper installations down the road.”

The Shanks went through the Snohomish County Public Utility District Solar Express program.

And whether people are becoming first-adopters or want to save money over time, that program is seeing a steady growth in customers.

The Snohomish PUD says solar output by customers generating their own power has now hit 1 megawatt. That’s double the output from two years ago with more than 200 customers now covering part of their energy needs using alternative sources.

“We’ve seen very strong interest in solar from both residential customers and businesses,” said Jessica Mitchell, PUD’s energy efficiency program manager. “We can help customers identify models so projects pencil out, and they can manage their energy future in a profitable manner.”

The PUD is offering two free seminars Tuesday and Wednesday to help guide customers who are in the market to try alternative energy methods.

Among the topics to be discussed are the monetary incentives. Among the options, Solar Express professionals will discuss:

•How homeowners can qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit.

That homeowners do not pay sales tax on solar systems under 10 kilowatts.

That the state offers incentive credits of 15 cents to 54 cents per kilowatt hour, depending upon whether the system was made in Washington or not.

How residential customers can qualify for up to $2,500 for solar systems.

That customers with electric hot water systems can qualify for a $500 incentive to switch to solar.

That residential customers may opt for a 2.9 percent interest loan for up to $25,000 for solar panels.

Investments in solar panels can run between $20,000 and $40,000 with $25,000 as an average. Solar hot water systems can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $13,000 depending on how beefy it is, Mitchell said.

“Some homeowners have a low consumption for power and (with solar) will be offsetting 100 percent of their PUD charges,” Mitchell said. “Others with higher demand in their home will be off-setting a certain percentage. The goal though is reducing or eliminating electricity costs.”

The Shanks bought their 6.7 kilowatt system of two arrays of 14 panels each, in part, because “it was a really patriotic thing to do,” said Mary Shank.

They do expect to see a drop in their yearly heating bill of $1,600 but, more importantly, the new system will release them from oil and has made Mary Shank aware of things she had overlooked before, like the weather.

“It’s really fun. I have to say to look at the meter and watch it supply the grid, it’s a blast,” she said.

The Shanks know they will be in their home for the long term and now realize that even on a gray day, they are still producing power.

Though Mary Shank admits she was initially going to spend a bunch of money redecorating the inside of her home, she has no regrets about this outdoor purchase.

“I’m really glad we did it. Somebody has got to do it,” she said. “And who knows, 30 years from now we might all have little panels on our backpacks and they will supply all our energy needs.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or

Solar Express

Solar information sessions will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday and noon Wednesday at the Snohomish County PUD, 2320 California St., Everett. Free. Find out more about solar systems and the Solar Express program. Wednesday’s session will also feature a webinar. For more information, including qualifications, call the PUD Energy Hotline at 425-783-1700 or online at

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