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Dan Doporto of Walnut Creek installed solar panels last year. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Contra Costa Times)

Attorney Dan Doporto and his wife had long wanted to put solar panels on their one-story Walnut Creek home, but didn't have the $50,000 it would take.

They knew that if they could figure out a way to pay for it, eventually they'd see their power bills cut in half or eliminated altogether by cutting their dependency on the power grid.

Then a Sunnyvale company called REC Solar and a host of other companies started promoting that they would help customers apply for California Energy Commission rebates, which could soften the financial blow. People throughout the state and nation are now harnessing rebates or other tools to lessen the exorbitant cost of solar power.

"They basically walked us through everything," Doporto said of REC. "They held our hand with the rebate paperwork and made it very easy."

The 5-kilowatt panel system installed on the Doporto home in February 2007 cost $58,000. But with $20,000 in rebates, they were able to finance the rest through a home equity line of credit. The company also helped get all the city permits necessary to install the equipment in and on their 2,300-square-foot home, including the inverter, which converts DC current to AC.

"If it hadn't been for that, we wouldn't have done it," Doporto said. "And it's something we really wanted, not only because of the cost savings, but because it's the right thing to do."

The Doportos' electric bill used to range from $200 to $400 per month. Now, it's around $800 a year. Many times, they get a credit on their bill. They still rely on the power grid somewhat, but not nearly the way they used to.

"In the winter, the bill is around $25; and in the summer, we get a credit for $75," Doporto said.

Solar energy emits no global warming gases and provides power in the middle of the day, when cost is highest. That's also when people need and want power the most.

Last year, Target in Walnut Creek installed a 300-kilowatt system on the roof of its downtown store, and the Acalanes Court affordable housing apartment building on Trinity Avenue has a 30-kilowatt system up and running.

Doporto said he has many friends who've also had panels installed in the past year — it's a trend he has seen increasing, as rebates and discounts become available.

The couple have two girls, ages 8 and 10, and Doporto said he and his wife wanted to set a good example for them.

"We want our children to do the right thing, and this seemed like the right thing."

The average household in America consumes more than 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, according to the Department of Energy. Using solar panels generates almost half that. During a 25-year period, using an average 3-kilowatt system, a household would emit 144,000 fewer pounds of toxic greenhouse gases, said Jay Hermon, a solar energy consultant with REC Solar.

Reach Tanya Rose at 925-943-8345 or trose@bayareanews group.com.