It seems that the one thing we can always count on is change.

When it comes to energy costs, change is not usually good news. Energy costs continue to go up. The cost of energy affects the price of everything you purchase.

Oil is used to produce various plastics, chemicals and motor fuels that find their way into the cost of goods. Higher utility bills affect the administrative costs of business. All of these costs are ultimately passed on to consumers.

But you can make a difference. Obvious answers are to drive less, adjust your thermostat, and consume less energy. We need to look for alternative energy sources. Thankfully, there is plenty of good news.

Did you know that South Carolina has unanimously passed new legislation that makes solar photovoltaic (electric) systems more affordable in our state?

This legislation allows all utilities to offer Net Metering, which credits you back at full retail rates for excess energy that your solar system sends back to the grid.

Just about every utility in the state offers Net Metering, with the exception of our state-owned utility, Santee Cooper. In fact, Santee Cooper has implemented a punitive rate increase for their customers who install solar.

But that’s a subject for another day.

South Carolina also has a state income tax credit equal to 25 percent of total system cost, and you have 10 years to use these credits. Several utilities, such as Duke Progress and SCE&G, have strong rebate programs, and several others are considering stronger rebates for solar.

But these rebates and state tax credits are only one part of the payback on a solar system purchase.

The federal government also gives 30 percent of your total system cost back to you in the form of a tax credit when you purchase a solar system.

Combine that with the savings on your monthly utility bill and you have a purchase that should show a return on investment between 7 and 15 percent. Can you get that kind of return on your investment in stocks, bonds or mutual funds? I don’t think so.

And with solar, your principle investment is not at risk.

How good would that have been when real estate and stock markets sunk back in 2008?

With no-money-down purchase options, all you need is good credit and you can “go solar.”

And your home goes up in value, too. An average size solar system will increase a home’s value by approximately $20,000 on an average home.

And finally, the effect on the environment is also huge. A typical solar system is equivalent to planting acres of trees. This effect will benefit you, your children and their children for years to come.

You don’t have to be held hostage to ever-rising utility rates. There is an alternative that allows you to lock in the cost of electricity for 30 years or more and give you peace of mind.

Tom Ferraro of Carolina Energy Conservation has been in the energy efficiency field for many years and provides residential and commercial solar systems and other energy efficient products.