ADECA: Habitat Home receives negative power bill

MONTGOMERY- Habitat for Humanity has long given low-income families the opportunity to own decent and affordable shelter. A home in Tuscumbia built by the Habitat chapter at the University of North Alabama has exceeded that mission by generating enough solar power that the power company owed the homeowner money for the first bill.

The three-bedroom house, completed by student volunteers in mid-August, includes nine solar panels and many other features that increase energy efficiency. In its first 45 days of occupancy, the home generated 250 kilowatts of solar power and used 292 kilowatts of power. Through Sheffield Utilities, the house is connected to the power grid enabling the homeowner to sell all of the solar power generated to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Generation Partners program for 15 cents per kilowatt hour. During the billing period, TVA charged about 10 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity consumed by the home, resulting in a bill of -$6.30 which was reflected as a credit with Sheffield Utilities.

The house was built with many energy-saving features, but homeowner Diane Higley did not know how efficient it could be until she opened the first power bill in October.

"I was just amazed," Higley said. "In my old house, I paid about $136 a month for power plus   about $500 during the winter for propane to heat the home."

A grant from the Energy Division of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs enabled Habitat to purchase and install the solar panels and other energy-saving materials including thick insulation, ENERGY STAR appliances, windows and light fixtures to further increase the home's energy efficiency. Cynthia Burkhead, faculty advisor for the student chapter of Habitat, said the installation of the solar panels and other energy-saving measures would not have been possible without the ADECA grant.

"Low-income homeowners spend about 14 percent of their disposable income on utility bills, so building homes that are energy efficient makes a big difference in their pocketbooks," ADECA Director Bill Johnson said. "By incorporating solar power and other energy-saving measures, these student volunteers not only have made the home more affordable for the homeowner, they also have made it a model for energy efficiency in Alabama. ADECA is proud to have played a role in this project."

The home has been rated as 59 percent more energy efficient than a typical house. The rating   was determined by an on-site inspection and air-leak tests conducted by TVA using the Home Energy Rating System, a test recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy and the construction industry. The home also was awarded a 5 Star Plus rating from ENERGY STAR, the highest energy-efficiency rating a home or building can earn.

Since getting the first bill, Higley has received a second bill of $22 which reflects a rate   increase by TVA. The lower bills mean more money each month for Higley to spend on necessities for three young grandchildren who live with her. She is also using the savings to pay extra on her mortgage each month.

"Having a little extra money each month means a lot," Higley said.