Energy-saving solar panels crop up in new Central City homes

June 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

As she settles into her newly built three-bedroom home in Central City, Denise Patton is looking forward to getting her first utility bill in the mail. She can’t wait to see how much energy she has saved, thanks to the solar panel array installed on her roof.

24mysolar_1024.jpgDenise Patton, right, and her daughter, Markuisha, stand in front of their new home in New Orleans. The home was built in a joint project by the Harmony Neighborhood and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.

“Then I’ll know,” said Patton, who is optimistic that she can cut her power costs by 50 percent or more. “I don’t know right now, but I’ll know when I get it.”

Patton was one of three first-time buyers who recently moved into a new home built by Harmony Neighborhood Development, a nonprofit development group formerly known as the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative that has used federal funding to convert blighted and vacant properties into affordable housing in Central City.

Harmony plans to build at least 11 more homes in the neighborhood this year that will be equipped with solar panels, with funding provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Falling prices of solar panels have made the equipment attractive to consumers in recent years. But Harmony and other nonprofit developers have been able to afford solar panels, once considered too expensive and out of reach of such projects, through an initiative from Make It Right, which established a separate, for-profit entity to leverage the available tax credits and lower the upfront costs for others.

Under the deal, Make It Right Solar buys the equipment and pays for its installation, covering up to 80 percent of the cost of the panels with federal and state tax credits. From there, developers are on the hook for the remainder of the cost, working out to about $5,000 to $7,000 per unit.

In Central City, where eight homes equipped with the panels have been built by Harmony, residents have taken notice.

“That’s a significant number for this area, and through Make It Right and our partnerships, we were one of the first entities to be able to install solar panels in Central City,” said Charles Cutno, project manager for the group.

Cutno said that while the solar arrays would typically cost between $15,000 and $24,000 each, the arrangement has enabled the costs to drop to around $3,400 to $6,000, depending on the size of the system.

solar-panels-patton.jpgView full sizeDenise Patton stands on a balcony next to her home, with the solar panels in the background. Her home was built as part of a joint project by the Harmony Neighborhood and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.

Entergy New Orleans has approximately 760 customers who are connected to its grid to use solar panels, including about 125 customers in the Central City area, Entergy spokesperson Jolen Stein said last week.

Overall, Make It Right Solar has done about 45 installations outside of the Lower 9th Ward, where the Brad Pitt-led push to rebuild the storm-ravaged neighborhood with affordable, energy-efficient housing got its start.

Cutno is quick to give credit where it’s due. “Make It Right has done such a good job in the Lower 9th Ward by bringing that equipment in, working with it through the years and making it feasible for other nonprofits to tap into that,” he said.

Pierre Moses, a project manager with Make It Right, said that in the last year since the initiative got under way, Make It Right Solar has worked with several local groups to complete solar installations, including 10 homes for the Broadmoor Development Corp.

The group has also partnered with Volunteers of America on a multiunit, multifamily development in Covington, which is different from the single-family units that the initiative has become known for, as well as projects in Kansas City and Newark, N.J.

In a city where the average family income barely topped $37,000 in 2009, and 23 percent of residents live below the poverty line, the potential savings could make a big difference for New Orleans residents, some observers say, especially as recent government research showed the New Orleans metropolitan area’s median monthly cost of housing has risen nearly 33 percent, from $662 in 2004 to $882 in 2009.

“Locally, interest has skyrocketed recently,” Moses said. As the price of solar technology has dropped, it’s become more affordable, and financing options have expanded. “Just a tremendous tool in expanding the accessibility of solar, and I think that’s certainly pushed the demand for solar a lot further in the last year or so.”

Since then, Moses has seen the local solar workforce expand, which will be key if demand follows suit, which he expects “will continue to increase.”

“It really seems like there’s a significant amount of job creation and employment within the solar industry, and I don’t think that’s going away, at least through the end of 2013,” he said.

Richard Thompson can be reached at or 504.826.3496.

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