Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf speaks during a celebration at her home Tuesday to launch the second year of the Community Environmental Council’s Solarize Santa Barbara program. Wolf and her husband installed a 22-panel solar power system at their home last year and have seen energy usage drop as a result. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The Community Environmental Council of Santa Barbara is helping local homeowners go solar again this year in a partnership with REC Solar and California Solar Electric.

Homeowners on the South Coast can buy or lease solar panel systems at discounted prices through the CEC’s Solarize Santa Barbara program. Partnerships with the solar contractors mean discounted prices for customers for the three months of the program, so residents can reduce their electricity costs.

Last year’s pilot program went from May through July, and this year homeowners can sign up until Nov. 9, according to Megan Birney, the CEC’s energy program manager. She added that there’s more of an emphasis on leasing this year, since it has less of an upfront cost for residents and still brings immediate electricity savings.

Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf hosted the program launch at her home Tuesday, where she and her husband, Harvey, installed a 5.3-kilowatt system last year. She said they saw their electricity bill drop to less than $20 per month from $200 or more per month.

Financing assistance from emPowerSBC, a county organization, is available to help with the upfront investment, and the CEC helps homeowners through the process, Wolf said. She and her husband said they consider it an investment in their home, the local economy and the environment.

Wolf added that it was a smart financial decision, too, with rebates, tax incentives and increased property value.

Her family added 22 panels on the roof and they were pumping out 4,023 watts at the time of Tuesday’s news conference, which fed energy back into the grid.

“It’s amazing — it feels like I have a little energy station,” Wolf said.

Wolf said her longtime friends, Elisa and Joe Atwill, also installed a solar system last year, and joked that the two families are competing to eliminate their fossil-fuel use.

The Atwills love their solar panels on their Montecito home and recently bought an electric car. Elisa Atwill said their Nissan Leaf costs a fraction per 100 miles compared with their previous car and, with their solar panels, literally runs on sunshine.

Joe Atwill said going solar is the right choice for the environment and your pocketbook. They both became fascinated watching the meter go backward as electricity usage plummeted. Since they readily admit they aren’t the most tech-savvy people, they decided to lease a system so the energy company would handle all installation and maintenance.

Forty-nine homeowners installed solar panels last year as part of the Solarize Santa Barbara program, and the CEC encourages people who are spending $100 or more monthly for electricity to consider signing up.

Workshops are scheduled for interested homeowners throughout the South Coast: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Carpinteria Womans Club and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.

Stacey and Chris Ulep of San Roque said they added a solar panel system during a major renovation last year and that it has provided all of their electricity ever since. They said they chose a 20-year lease to save on upfront costs, and the 14 panels have even outperformed what the leasing company estimated.

“It really seemed like a no-brainer, we get so much sun here,” Chris Ulep said. “That is a big thrill, to understand the impact we’re making by adding solar panels to our home.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.