Dayton-area families embrace solar energy
Co-op helps consumers save on cost of installing solar panels.
Phil Leppla and his wife, Heather, have installed solar panels on their detached garage. They have been generating all their own electric power since the spring of 2018 and have benefited with low and even $0 electric bills. CONTRIBUTED

If you happen to live in a state well known for lots of sunshine, you may also be utilizing solar energy to generate power for your home. But if you live in Ohio, where the number of sunny days annually is slightly less than the national average of 205, you may think the cost of installing solar panels negates any benefit.

But Phillip Leppla, a Dayton resident living in the McPherson Town Historic District, knows that Ohio gets more than enough sunshine to make the investment worthwhile.

“It’s a common misconception among the general public that Ohio is not good for solar power,” Leppla said. “But actually, we get plenty of sunshine.”

Leppla, who has a background in environmental law and governmental affairs, said he has always been interested in solar energy. Born in Germantown, Leppla graduated from Ohio State University and then went to law school at Capital University.

He followed in his father’s footsteps, with plans to eventually practice law in Dayton.

But about two years ago, he and his wife, Heather, were planning a detached garage on their property and decided it was the perfect time to install solar panels.

“My sister, who works for the Ohio Environmental Council, put me in touch with Solar United Neighbors (SUN) of Ohio,” Leppla said. “They explained their co-op model and I reached out to my family, friends and neighbors.”

The co-op model is designed to help consumers save money not only on their energy bills, but also on the cost of installing solar panels in their homes by combining the buying power of a group. Most co-ops in Ohio involve between 50 to 100 people and SUN offers support during every step of the process, from purchasing to installing to utilizing solar panels to generate energy.

“People don’t realize how much the price has come down on solar,” Leppla said. “Even ten years ago it seemed unattainable to most people, but the panels are so much more efficient now.”

In fact, Leppla found that the installation costs for solar have dropped more than 70% over the last decade. And he was very pleased to discover that he could power his home completely with solar panels, even living in Dayton, Ohio.

“There are plenty of sunny days in Ohio,” Leppla said. “Even in the winter, because solar panels also still produce energy on cloudy days.”

Leppla’s solar panels were installed in March of 2018 and within a few weeks, they were producing more than enough power for his home. One of the best things was that not only did this take his energy bill down to zero, but his power meter began to move backward!

“We had to have the blessing of Dayton Power & Light and sign a net metering agreement with them,” Leppla said. “Once approved, we began generating power and putting the excess back into the grid.”

Net-metering agreements state that local power companies must purchase that excess power, thereby offsetting the installation costs of solar panels for the homeowners. In addition, Leppla was able to take advantage of a solar tax credit, which paid him back 30% of his installation costs.

“We are hoping the system will pay for itself within seven to nine years,” Leppla said. “We’ve had bills as low as zero and others only a few dollars.”

Leppla said those bills didn’t entirely surprise him, but he wasn’t expecting them to remain that low year-round, especially during the high energy usage summer months. And like most people, he didn’t think it possible to produce all their own energy during the cloudy, gray Ohio winter days.

“Some of the best days to produce are actually in the winter,”

Leppla said. “If it’s cold and clear outside, the panels run more efficiently.

The days are shorter, but you can still produce fairly well.”

Leppla said that it is more difficult to get people to agree to solar panels for their own home if they haven’t seen them in action.

Panels are not readily available at local stores and the facts about the real benefits of solar energy are not easy to find.

“We are trying to do solar open houses and showing people actual energy bills,” Leppla said. “It’s becoming more and more important for people to produce power on their own so showing them the benefits is really working.”

For the Leppla family, “going solar,” is a decision they are ultimately happy they made. They also own two hybrid electric vehicles that are powered through their solar system.

“We think it’s the moral thing to do to stop using fossil fuels,” Leppla said. “We are saving money, but we are also helping the environment.

It just makes sense.”

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