Solar power emerging in Fort Bend County

(Source: Solar United Neighbors/Community Impact Newspaper)
(Source: Solar United Neighbors/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Source: Solar United Neighbors/Community Impact Newspaper)

A group of residents in Lake Olympia are opting to power their homes with solar energy.

Lake Olympia solar homeowner Andreas Matzakos said in an email the sustainable nature of solar energy paired with the elimination of harmful air and water emissions piqued his interest when deciding to go solar three years ago.

“The concern of climate change was the tipping point in our decision,” said Matzakos, who leads the Lake Olympia group. “The fact that we could make a return on our green investment encouraged us to buy them and use the dividends for other green investments like an electric vehicle and energy efficient AC units.”

The co-op of over 30 residents selected an installer, Sunfinity Renewable Energy, in October to equip each home with solar panels at a discounted group rate.

The co-op is operated through Solar United Neighbors, a national organization whose mission is to create a new energy system through rooftop solar sources. The organization also has co-ops established in College Station, central Houston, The Woodlands area and southern Dallas County.

According to Solar United Neighbors, the national average for installation of solar panels is $3 per watt. Since the average residential system is between 4,000 and 8,000 watts, systems can cost anywhere from about $12,000-$24,000 and can take four to 12 years to earn back the cost of the system.

Matzakos said after researching solar panel installers, it took about three months for the system to be operational after his contract was signed.

Matzakos said his home still imports about 50% of its energy needs from the electrical grid during the night and times of peak energy consumption. His home also requires natural gas to heat water, dry clothes and heat the home.

“We also export energy to the grid and get equal value for it. Thus, the ‘net’ energy we pay to the utility is about 25% of our annual needs,” he said.

On a larger scale, in Fort Bend County, construction on a solar energy plant is set to start in the Needville area by the second quarter of 2020, according to Lisa Murphy, a project developer with AP Solar. The plant would be complete 10-14 months after construction begins, Murphy said.

The energy generated by the plant would be sold into the market, she said.

“The advantage to the homeowners is that on those peak days when it’s so expensive, it will help to provide more capacity so the prices won’t go so high,” Murphy said.

Matzakos said he thinks the Lake Olympia co-op may encourage more groups to form in Fort Bend County.

“This is a unique and rare opportunity for the community to save money while protecting their environment and supporting local green jobs,” he said.
By Beth Marshall
Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.