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Harnessing the power of the sun

When Deb White returned home from work Tuesday evening her house was a toasty 68 degrees but throughout the day she didn't use a lick of gas. Considering the temperatures never rose above zero that's pretty amazing.

While White's neighbors were racking up big gas bills trying to keep their homes comfortable, she relied on the sun's rays to do the job. White recently added a solar heating system to her home to go green and to save some green.

All of her hot water and more than a third of her in-home heating will now come from the sun's energy through the solar heating system she had installed. Crews finished installing the system to White's home last week.

The system includes six 4x10 solar panels mounted on White's roof at a 60 degree angle. White's not convinced she likes the way the panels look sitting on her roof. But aesthetic appeal isn't why the Rosemount High School math teacher had the panels installed, so she'll get used to it, she says.

"I didn't think they'd be so big," White said.

Appearances aside, White said so far the system has worked great. On the few sunny days since crews finished, she said the system has kicked right in and kept her home warm throughout the day.

"It's pretty slick," said White.

Eric Pasi, a sales representative with Innovative Power Solutions, the company that installed White's panels, said on average the panels will provide 30 to 40 percent of her in-home heating needs depending on the how much sun is out. The system will supply all of her hot water because even on cloudy days the panels create some energy.

When there is a lack of sun or at night White's regular furnace system activates to warm her home.

The system, White said, is easy to use and requires little maintenance.

While White isn't sure how much money she will save with the system, she hopes it will be significant.

"I've been saving my bills so I can compare the savings. Hopefully it will be a significant amount," said White.

However, White doesn't anticipate the system will pay for itself anytime soon. Solar heating systems range in price from $18,000 to $30,000. State and federal government grants and programs can help defray some of the expenses but it is still a big bill.

Despite the cost White said she is happy with her decision to make her home more environmentally friendly.

"I've always had concern for nature and this was something I could do to make a statement," said White.

Pasi said the system will offset 7,000 pounds of CO2 emissions a year. Over the 30-year life of the system that will equate to more than 205,000 pounds of CO2.

"It's the equivalent of adding 340 trees to a forest," said Pasi.

To install the system IPS had to reinforce White's roof to make sure it could handle the additional weight and strain from the systems. The panels, which use a food grade antifreeze to collect the heat, were installed on her roof and a 120-gallon storage tank was installed into her basement.

Concerned with the environment and the carbon footprint she's leaving behind White said she has been thinking for several years about adding a solar heating system to her home. After weighing her options and researching various companies she decided to take the plunge this year and selected IPS to install the system.

White found IPS at a trade show held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. She said she chose the company because they seemed reasonable and convinced her they had a quality product. The company installs solar heating and electric systems and small wind power systems all over Minnesota. The company has been in business since 1991.

White's solar heating system is unique in Rosemount. City planner Jason Lindahl said it is the first he knows of in the community.

A home on Chili Avenue has a few solar panels, White said, and has for many years. But White doesn't know if the owners use them.

As much as anything White said she hopes she can serve as an example for others.

"It's not something everyone can afford to do but people can look at other ways to help," said White.