SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Steve Weil of Vancleave couldn't be happier with his $10,000 solar investment.
He's not only cut the power bill at his mobile home by $45 a month, he has an added bonus.
"This is cheaper, renewable, convenient, when the power goes out," Weil said. "And, you have a little say. If things get rough and I hit hard times, least I could have entertainment. I could have heat and air conditioning and I don't have to depend on the grid."
Although he isn't powering his entire home, it's something he's considering. Weils, who has had the panels for about nine months, says he's studied prices for five years.
So far, it's paying dividends especially, when the power grid goes down.
"I wasn't sitting, having to have the wife look at me for three or four hours. You know how far that'll go," added Weil.
But, Weil is one of few solar customers in South Mississippi, something that bothers Hank Roberts of 3rd Rock Energy Solutions in D'Iberville.
"I don't mind admitting that I get a little frustrated with the fact that it's so hard for me to get across to the residents, to the people of the Gulf Coast. Look around you. There are no solar panels on houses. Why? You go to Phoenix, Arizona, and it's on every house in the neighborhood," said Roberts.
While the cost depends on what residents want to power, the average price for hooking up an average-sized house is about $8,000. There are two systems: daytime only, which powers the home directly during the day; or panels with rechargeable battery storage, which can power your house at night as well.
Roberts says that while it takes around seven years to pay back a solar investment, it's an investment that's affordable to anybody.
"Absolutely, because, you're going to be paying the money to the power company anyway," Roberts said. "If you go out and buy a bass boat, you've got extra payments every month for the bass boat. In this way, you go out and buy a solar system, but it's reducing your cost from the power company."
While Roberts doesn't recommend totally going off the grid, he said with his system, there is no more worry about rate increases.
"Perhaps in a year and a half from now, you put it on today, you'd be saving 50 percent on your power bill just because of the raises," Roberts said. "But you don't have to worry about the raises in prices, because you've got solar power."
In December, the Public Service Commission approved net metering, in which utilities have to compensate residences and businesses for excess power they put back on the grid.
Under the final decision, customers exporting solar power to the grid in Mississippi will be compensated between 7 and 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the utility. And, that's OK with Mississippi Power, who has committed itself to several solar projects through the state.
"One project on the Coast and two in the Hattiesburg area that will make Mississippi Power the largest provider of solar energy in the state," said Tony Smith, MPC environmental affairs.
However, the new net metering is not yet in effect for company customers. MPC submitted its plan to the public service commission in March, and is awaiting approval. The company requires that any customers who want to add solar panels go through a vetting process, even if they don't plan to sell power back. The interconnection includes installation of a $50 meter.
Smith has been part of the company's long-term research into solar power.
"For safety and reliability reasons, we need to be notified of that and there needs to be an assurance that the installation was installed properly and consistent with established procedures," noted Smith.
None of Roberts' customers are selling back to the grid, but he says the opportunity is there.
"You're going to use what you're going to use. And what if you're producing half again that much? It's just wasted," said Roberts.