Power bill too high? This couple has a solution

The two-story home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Ocean Springs overlooks Weeks Bayou.

All 3,600 square feet of it sits there radiating charm.

It’s also quietly making electricity. Or at least the discreetly placed solar panels on its roof are.

Matt and Lea Campbell live there. Until April, solar power was just a dream for them.

A month earlier, they saw a story in the Sun Herald about Bruce and Alice Duckett, another Ocean Springs couple who have solar panels on their home.

They contacted Sun Pro Home Specialists, a Louisiana company that installed the Ducketts’ system. Soon, an expert was there.

“He was extremely thorough and knowledgeable about how many panels we could install,” Lea Campbell said. “How much square footage we had on the roof. How much energy each panel would produce.”

The numbers compute

That analysis persuaded the Campbells to invest in a system, which the savings on their power bill will pay off in about five years. They also will get a $7,800 federal tax credit.

“It just made complete sense in our situation,” she said. “We were paying over $350 a month to Mississippi Power.”

Now their bill is more like $150. The savings were even greater than Sun Pro anticipated.

You’d never know by looking at the house that it was solar powered and they don’t go around advertising it, but when Lea Campbell mentions it, “everybody’s interested.”

A neighbor, Julia O’Neal, heard about them. She told Louie Miller, Mississippi director of the Sierra Club, and he signed them up to tell their story at the Mississippi Solar Energy Forum in Biloxi on Oct. 18.

Lea Campbell said her husband is the real geek when it comes to the details. On the Sun Pro website, he can monitor the power the panels generate.

“From last year to this year, the reduction has been 40 to 50 percent, depending on the month,” Matt Campbell said. “They’re generating 20 to 30 percent of our power.”

Learn about solar

It’s the kind of story Miller and attorney Robert Wiygul, who’ll moderate a panel discussion at the forum, believe will help the industry take off in Mississippi.

“Removing the regulatory uncertainty is a big part of this,” Miller said.

That uncertainty was removed a few weeks ago when the Public Service Commission approved Mississippi Power’s plan for “net metering” — allowing customers to sell the utility excess power they generate with their solar panels. Mississippi Power supplies electricity to 186,606 customers, 86,079 of them on the Coast.

“Before this order (approving the net-metering plan), a Mississippi customer who had solar panels and wanted to sell power back to the grid was being charged $15.19 a month by Mississippi Power,” Miller said. “It was an administrative fee. That’s gone.

“You know exactly what your meter will cost, what you will get back on a monthly basis.”

Wiygul said it could be good news for other ratepayers as well.

“(The state Public Service Commission) got a study from Synapse, which is one of the big energy and economics consulting outfits, and their economic study said net metering actually would have downward pressure on rates overall because you have less transmission infrastructure that you would need and over time you have savings from that,” Wiygul said.

“No rule is perfect but this rule is at least moving in the right direction.”

The forum will have installers on hand to explain the process of going solar. It will have a solar array and an expert there to answer questions about it.

Experts at the forum will talk about best practices. How to choose an installer. What to look for in licensing, bonding, insurers.

There aren’t a lot of installers in Mississippi now, but Miller thinks that’s about to change.

“I think you are fixing to see a blooming of installers,” he said. “The main complaint we’ve heard time and again from installers is it is hard to sell a product when there are so many unknowns. Now that net metering has been approved, they are more willing to come in and do business here.”

The forum will be 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Biloxi Visitors Center, just north of the Lighthouse, at 1050 Beach Blvd.