JOLIET — For the last four years, Bill and Betty Lorch have paid next to nothing on their electricity bill, thanks to the solar panels they installed on their Joliet home.
On Saturday, homeowners ambitious to do the same can tour the couple's 1911 home as part of the Illinois Solar Tour — a free, self-guided, statewide open house demonstrating how homes and businesses are using solar, wind and geothermal to become energy independent.
“I pay nothing,” Bill Lorch, of Joliet, said Wednesday. Before he installed solar, his electricity bill, in the winter at its greatest, was "unimaginably costly," he said.
“[The panels] pretty much pay for itself,” Lorch added. Under the state's “net metering” law, Lorch said he can sell his excess electricity back to utilities — in this case, Commonwealth Edison — at retail prices.
And Lorch said he'd like to show other area homeowners they can do the same.
The open house event, coordinated by the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society, takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday statewide. Lorch's home can be toured anytime during those hours.
The solar panel system installation cost about $30,000, he said, but the couple ended up paying only $10,000 after receiving a federal tax rebate and a state tax credit.
Solar thermal savings
About 25 minutes southwest of the Lorch home is another environmentally friendly home owned by Warren Kronberger, of Minooka. Kronberger also is participating in Saturday's Illinois Solar Tour.
The installation of a solar thermal system in 2005 has cut the family of four's propane fuel use by half, he said. The same year the system was installed, the family's propane tank provider even asked to exchange his 500-gallon tank with a 250-gallon tank, since his fuel use had dropped so dramatically, he said.
He hopes to see people at his front door Saturday.
“If you have any interest, any at all, this gives you a chance to speak with someone who's installed it and lived with it at the home,” Kronberger said. “You'll hear all the pluses and minuses and we can dispel any myths you may have heard.”
One of those myths, Kronberger said, is that solar only works in extremely sunny climates "like Arizona or Florida."
"That's just not true," Kronberger said. "Solar energy in the U.S., all across the U.S., is very reliable."
IF YOU GO
What: Illinois Solar Energy
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bill Lorch, 816 Douglas St., in Joliet;
Warren Kronberger, 8955 E. Condor Court in Minooka
Additional info: Free admission