Power to the people! That’s what Carolina Energy Conservation is all about. The company recently installed the first solar-electric energy system in Sun City Hilton Head.

Thanks to the community’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) decision in January to allow solar panel installation, Betty and Hursley McNaughton were the first residents to take advantage of the change in policy.

Carolina Energy Conservation, founded in 2009 in Myrtle Beach, installed 32 SolarWorld solar panels, individual inverters and wiring on the south-facing roof at the McNaughton’s residence on Rose Sage Walk in September. The black panels blend in aesthetically with the black roof shingles. Installation took one and a half days.

Besides enhancing heating and cooling efficiency in the home, solar-electric systems save money on utility bills.

“Let’s say you use 15,000 kilowatt hours a year,” said Tom Ferraro, solar sales specialist for Carolina Energy who owned a solar company in New Jersey before moving to Bluffton earlier this year. “Our target is to make that go away” with a reduction in utility usage upward of 90 percent. “So, for all intents and purposes, if you have a $250 electric bill, we’ll get it down to $10,” he said.

The McNaughtons have fared even better than that.

Except for a $17 monthly fixed charge for Palmetto Electric equipment, they now pay $0, dramatically lower than the average $180 monthly cost they were paying.

The average solar energy customer can expect to realize a $1,500 annual savings, Ferraro said. The cost of installation is typically recouped in less than seven years.

The McNaughtons also will receive a one-time federal tax credit of 30 percent and a 25 percent tax credit from South Carolina for up to eight years.

“We were going to do it anyway; this was just added incentive,” Hursley McNaughton said. “We also are stewards of the environment, and we believe that solar will help this planet if people take advantage of it.”

Bob Donelson, solar ambassador at Sun City, said he expects 50 or 60 more homes at the residential community to convert to solar-electric energy in the coming year, and about 10 percent of the 7,700 homes overall in the years to come. “I was on the ARB committee to change the world from no solar to accepting solar,” he said.

When the McNaughtons jumped on the solar energy bandwagon, they called Ferraro.

“My wife and I were so impressed by the work and the representation we got from Tom and Dave (Pearsall),” Hurdsley said. “I’m telling you, they made it so simple and easy and stress-free. They did a fantastic job.”

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.