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“Let the Sunshine In” resounded as the anthem from the musical “Hair” when it debuted on Broadway in 1968.

In that year, photo-voltaic cells, now more commonly known as solar cells, were very expensive novelties. I bought one about 4 inches square for about $20 that could barely power a transistor radio.

Perhaps Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A-Changin,” or “are a-chargin’,” is equally prophetic.

In mid-December, StraightUp Solar installed 23 solar panels on my roof, which on a good sunny day should generate almost 7.5 kilowatts.

StraightUp estimated that that should compensate for about 98 percent of our yearly electricity usage.

Of course, just like miles per gallon in a car, real-world numbers are tricky. We even asked our very artistic arborist, Gus, to carefully remove a tree limb that shaded some of the roof.

My solar quest started with a friend in Massachusetts boasting to me that he was going “solar.”

My next-door neighbor installed solar panels on his roof about three years ago, when it was more expensive than today.

People generate a lot of hot air discussing climate change. Most of us lack much individual control over greenhouse gas emissions.

Sure, you can drive a hybrid or electric car, which is not satisfactory for many people. You can install a highly efficient furnace and air conditioner while dialing down the heating and cooling in your home. Please don’t lecture me about staying off airplanes. Some readers of this paper abhor wind turbines.

Installing solar panels for electricity is a major way you can fight climate change without sacrifice or disturbing your neighbors.

If you go solar for the financial benefits, you’ll wait about 10 years (it used to be 20 years) to amortize your investment.

There are three financial incentives.

The first is a 26 percent federal tax credit. Congress extended it through 2021. It was supposed to fall to

22 percent this year.

The second is selling solar renewable energy credits. Your solar installer will link you with a broker who buys the credits from you and sells them to major utilities that pollute too much, such as Commonwealth Edison.

Sometimes there’s a market for energy credits and sometimes not. Timing is everything.

Then there’s the slippery, controversial compensation known as net metering. This requires your utility company, such as Ameren, to buy the power from your solar panels at a wholesale rate and apply it toward your electric bill.

They will still charge you for “delivery” of power. So if your monthly electric bill is $100, you may see as much as an $80 discount, depending on your system and the utility.

Power companies detest this provision because it reduces their profits. Net metering is one of those political footballs that the Legislature deals with in the dead of night when no one is looking. Hello, Mike Madigan and Commonwealth Edison?

I barely have space left to tell you about my terrific experience with StraightUp (

With that said, StraightUp supplies a lengthy contract that requires reading the fine print. Some clauses are negotiable, some are not.

The worst is the energy-credit contract from Carbon Solutions Group. Take this to your attorney. I’ll explain more in a future column, where I’ll also discuss the installation and first month of operation.

Annual electronics show set to begin

The 2021 virtual Consumer Electronics Show starts Monday. It baffles me how even the most sophisticated internet technology with an unlimited budget can substitute for the 140,000 people who take over most of Las Vegas every January.

Manufacturers will release their new products and technologies, but how do you appreciate the newest 100-inch 8K TV on a 24-inch HD computer screen? Or test drive the latest electric car?

I’ll report on the most significant new developments from the forthcoming virtual CES in my Jan. 24 column.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

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