“Most are connected to the power grid. We can do installations that are completely off the grid — that is, there is a battery system that stores power for nighttime use or when it’s raining/cloudy and power from the solar array is reduced. We recently did an installation for a fishing camp that is totally off the grid.”

The installation at the Hegman house is a pole-mounted 2.8 kilowatt array, producing direct current (DC), which inverters convert to 240-volt alternating current (AC).

Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee are the only three states in the U.S. that have no regulations for interconnecting solar arrays to the electric grid, Will notes, nor does it have net metering regulations that establish guidelines for individuals to be able to sell power to their utility company.

“The power generated by the solar array doesn’t directly power anything in our house,” he explains. “Rather, the current flows into the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) grid, where it is mixed with all their other electricity — whether from coal-fired or hydroelectric plants. We sell our solar power to them and we then get a credit from them against the electric bill for our house.

“It’s a simple system. TVA has been actively encouraging solar power, and under its Green Power Switch Generation Partners program, which was started in 2003 to provide incentives to users within its multi-state territory to adopt clean energy systems, they pay us 12 cents more per kWh for the solar power we sell them than they charge for the electricity we buy from them. They, in turn, purchase carbon credits to offset CO2 emissions from their coal-fired plants.

“In September, we received a check for $70 for our residence and a separate check for $245 for our shop for the excess energy we produced during the past year under TVA’s generation partners program. So, with our solar system we essentially covered all our electricity use for the past year, plus those rebates.”

Solar power is not a panacea for eliminating home electric bills, Carolyn notes. Outside the TVA territory, where electric rates are generally significantly higher and interconnection arrangements are less established, the economics would be different. For individuals, the systems are still relatively costly to buy and install, since some of the depreciation and tax breaks would not be available.

“For individual homes, the best dollars you can spend are still for insulation, weatherization, and power strips that allow you to completely turn off appliances such as TVs, DVRs, etc., when they’re not in use (even though they’re ‘off,’ most such devices still consume power in order to provide instant-on features).”