WESTPORT Tim Sherman has decided to be proactive in dealing with rising energy costs. With help in the form of grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), The Westport town councilman and professional builder recently installed some new equipment at his home that will harness the power of the sun. Included in the project was a large solar panel to generate electricity as well as an evacuated heat tube system, which uses solar energy to heat domestic hot water. Sherman said that he began looking for alternatives after seeing how the cost of fuel had risen so rapidly in the past few years. Its a clean energy and its there; its free, said Sherman, who has experimented with smaller solar projects in the past. While researching the viability of solar power for his home, he learned of substantial tax credits for using solar power, as well as grants available through NYSERDA awarded to homeowners who install solar equipment on a grid-tie system. Having a grid-tie system means that Shermans home can still get the electricity it needs when there isnt much sun. When the solar panel produces more energy than his home is using, the surplus electricity is fed back into the grid, turning his meter backwards. The grant allowed Sherman to subtract nearly half of the more than $33,000 cost to install the 3.6 kW solar panel, which he estimates will supply close to two thirds of the electricity his home consumes annually. State and federal tax credits awarded over a five-year term will offset an additional $6,200 from the total cost of the project, leaving Sherman to account for roughly a third of the total cost. Assuming an average 8% annual increase in electricity costs, Sherman anticipates that the out-of-pocket expense for the panel will be paid off in roughly 13 years with the money he will save by producing his own power. If prices rise faster than that, as he suspects, it could be much sooner. With a 20-year warrantee on the equipment, he said the choice was easy to make. Similar tax credits will subtract nearly half the cost of his new water heating system, which Sherman expects will replace $620 worth of fuel oil annually, not accounting for changes in fuel costs. At that rate, the equipment, which has an expected 25-year life span, will pay itself off in less than five years. Sherman said he is pleased with the system, which keeps his 120 gallons of domestic hot water between 80F and 130F. If needed, he can supplement the heat with an on-demand heater. With the financial assistance available, Sherman urged current and future homeowners to consider solar power, noting that financing the added cost in a mortgage can save thousands in the long run. If you are building a new home you should be insisting on their installation, he said.