Selbyville couple uses the sun to go green

Like two excited kids with a science experiment, Carole and Ron Patten of Selbyville proudly check their electric meter every day to see how much it has electricity it has generated. After installing a 24-panel solar system last fall, they have already seen dramatic decreases in their electric bill and have generated 1,300 kilowatts of power.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Carole and Ron Patten’s 24-panel solar system on the roof of their home in Selbyville.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Carole and Ron Patten’s 24-panel solar system on the roof of their home in Selbyville.

“We installed it Oct. 2,” said Carole Patten. “Our first bill after that was $19, and our second was $29. And, in just those two months, we have generated 1,300 kilowatts of power, and those are hours that can be sold back.”

That is a big difference from their previous budget plan, where they paid an average hovering around $90 or $100 per month, or as high as $174 in the summer months with air conditioning.

“It’s amazing,” said Carole Patten. “I am amazed more people are not aware. Delaware pays for half of it, and you feel good about what you are doing for the environment. For my children and grandchildren especially, to be able to look at our own roof and see what we are doing … We have always recycled and had a programmable thermostat. We have always been energy-conscious, and now we have just taken it a step further, and we want everyone to.”

“We have done everything humanly possible,” [to reduce energy usage] added Ron Patten. This includes changing their light bulbs, programming their propane water heater, adding an extra foot of blown insulation and researching a radiant barrier – something else than can reduce energy usage by up to 50 percent.

Although they were already energy-conscious, the couple’s journey to solar panels started last spring, by chance, after they visited a senior expo in Millsboro to learn about Social Security.

“We sort of stumbled into it,” said Carole Patten. “When Rep. [Gerald] Hocker’s aides asked if we found everything satisfactorily, my husband asked about grant money. They told us about the Renewable Energy Program. We found out that Delaware pays for half {for solar panel purchase/installation] and that made it even better.”

“If not for Rep. Hocker, we would not have known about this,” said Ron Patten. He also said that, as a former police officer, he had the task of being the police liaison at several Baltimore-area senior expos, similar to the one in Millsboro, and had struggled to get involvement from their representatives. “I’m surprised the reps came,” he said. “I did those for years and never did get them to come. I was amazed.”

Ron Patten set out to investigate some area companies that could perform their solar installation, and the couple decided on Delaware Renewable Energy of Rehoboth Beach. They were very satisfied with the service they got and continue to be so.

“Everything they’ve said so far has been true,” said Ron Patten. “They handled everything with the grant, and we just signed on the dotted line.”

When they asked the Town of Selbyville about permitting, however, the town had to get back to them. And they now believe they are the first residential solar installation inside Selbyville town limits.

The system cost $38,000, but with the grant paying for half and a federal credit of $2,000, their out-of-pocket expense was $17,000. And that is a number they expect to recoup in four to seven years, depending on how the renewable energy credits pan out. For every 1,000 kilowatts produced, homeowners earn one renewable energy credit, which can then be sold. That process is something Delaware Renewable Energy takes care of, as well as yearly inspections for the first five years. The panels also have a 30-year guarantee.

“It’s been a real please working with them,” said Ron Patten. “Everything they have said, they have lived up to.”

The Pattens talked to a reference provided by the company and asked about anything negative, because the decreased energy usage, the ability to sell back produced energy and the grant money all seemed a little too good to be true.

“We asked him to tell us something negative about having the panels, and he couldn’t,” said Ron Patten.

“It’s amazing,” repeated Carole Patten. “I have been telling people our electric bill is less than our phone bill. And that’s $38.”

For more information on the state’s Renewable Energy Program, visit the Web site at