Neighborhood turns to solar power

SPRING, TX Grady Hill points to his energy bill as proof that he hasn't paid a power bill since August 2009. It shows a $251 credit, so he doesn't owe any money this month. His solar panels generated more energy than he used this month. With that kind of savings, it's hard for Hill not to gloat to his friends.

He said, "Every time I see them they say, 'OK, how much was your energy bill this month?' I say nothing, they say, 'Shut up!' We do it as kind of a joke, you know."

Hill lives in a solar powered hybrid energy community called Discovery at Spring Trails. It's considered by the developer to be the first of its kind in the nation. All homes use solar power. Homes start at $170,000. Solar panels cost about $14,000 for a bank of panels, but it could cost more. The cost is added in to the price of the house, and people like Hill see savings immediately.

Hill has about 36 solar panels that power his whole house.

"We're on a grid with the power company and when we don't generate enough power we draw from the grid," Hill explained.

But Hill has been off the grid for nearly two years -- an exception in this growing community, but an example of what's possible. All homes can monitor day by day the energy they use with a device.

"What we've been able to do is design what's called a dashboard, a home energy management device that gives real time visibility to us consumers," explained developer Craig Lobel with Land Tejas.

That means homeowner Jim Benton is staying cool without a red hot energy bill.

He said, "We've got a bigger house than what we had in Oklahoma by about 600 square feet, and we're actually paying about half of what we were paying there."

As for solar panels, anyone can buy them. It depends on your community association as to whether or not they can be installed.

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