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Solar Power

Workshop gives incentives for homeowners to install solar panels

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Romaine opens the Solarize Brookhaven event at Town Hall. Photo by Giselle Barkley

A little sunshine never hurt anyone, especially now that solar power is here to stay.

On Saturday, the Town of Brookhaven hosted its second annual Solarize Brookhaven event featuring SUNation’s solar system program. SUNation was one of almost 30 solar companies that the town considered to help encourage Brookhaven resident to go solar, be energy efficient, and save money.

According to Christina Mathieson, chief administrative officer of SUNation, in the company’s 13 years of business, it’s sold 1,600 solar systems and saved solar users around $3 million annually. Mathieson said residents qualify for the program if their electricity bill will cost less when they go solar.

“Our goal is to [help] customers offset almost 100 percent of their electrical consumption,” Mathieson said in an interview before the event.

Although residents can produce their own electricity using the solar system program, users must remain connected to the Public Service Enterprise Group. The energy generated by the solar panels is not stored in the user’s home, but in PSEG’s grid system. This is regardless of whether residents buy or lease SUNation’s service. According to Mathieson, homeowners who decide to buy the service and lock in their payment when they go solar will eventually pay around $11 to stay connected to PSEG.

During the event on Oct. 10, residents could speak to one of several site evaluators from SUNation to discuss going solar and what it may cost for each specific resident. Roofs that get ample sunlight during the day or those facing the South, East or West will produce more energy than houses with a roof facing North, according to Mathieson. Site evaluators can see a prospective client’s roof via Google Earth and determine how much going solar will cost and save a client, depending on the orientation and overall location of the perspective buyer’s roof and the location of their home. SUNation’s solar system program will last up to 40 years. In a 30-year period, Mathieson saw clients save anywhere from $60 to $250,000 dollars after going solar.

According to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), the purpose of the Solarize Brookhaven event is to help everyday people find a means to buy or finance solar for their home. Romaine also highlighted additional benefits of going solar, including the fact that solar has created 175,000 jobs and has pumped nearly $15 million back into the economy.

But reducing greenhouse gases is another benefit to going solar. During the event, Romaine said town and state officials alike are “involved [with Solarize Brookhaven] because [they’re] trying to reduce the greenhouse gases in [Brookhaven] town.”

Brookhaven’s chief environmental analyst, Anthony Graves, added that the idea was to have the event so residents know they will be getting a good, reliable system at a good price.

“And that’s what we’ve gotten with SUNation,” Graves said.

Graves also said the company provided a 15 percent discount on its service. In order to appeal to the masses and encourage more residents to participate in the program, residents will receive a check for $1,000 if 100 people participate in the program. The deal taps into the fact that, according to Mathieson, one of the main reasons people go solar is because their neighbor went solar.

But for residents like Stephen Plesnik of Miller Place, his electric bill was enough for him to look into going solar. Plesnik said he was looking into solar as he saw his electricity bill continually increasing over time.

“I’ve been looking into solar for the last six months and since this is a company that is approved by the Town of Brookhaven, supposedly they’re giving a better deal,” Plesnik said, while waiting to speak to a site evaluator at the event.

And SUNation’s service offers one of the better deals when it comes to going solar, according to Mathieson and town officials.

“Most of us never thought that we could have a system that made electricity,” Mathieson said. “We almost never imagined not paying an electric bill. The days of people having to lay out money to own solar systems are over, and the days of a return of investment are gone.”

Huntington residents could find it easier to afford solar panels on their homes, thanks to new initiative backed by town and City University of New York officials. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Town residents looking to go solar can let the sunshine in at a discount, thanks to a new group-purchasing program spearheaded by town and City University of New York officials.

On Monday afternoon, town hall officials unveiled Solarize Huntington, a program that attempts to incentivize residents to go solar by offering discounts of up to 25 percent on installation costs through installer Direct Energy Solar. The level of discount would increase as the number of participants in the Solarize Huntington program grows, according to the town and Sustainable CUNY of the City University of New York. Solarize Huntington will also include educational workshops about solar energy and guidance on the process of going solar.

The program, which officially launched today, May 4,  runs through Sept. 10.

Homeowners who participate could purchase, finance or lease solar systems from Direct Energy Solar, the installer selected by CUNY through a competitive bidding process, town spokesman A.J. Carter said. Direct Energy Solar is also offering an additional $500 discount to the first 20 homeowners who sign contracts.

The average solar installation, with state and federal incentives included, could cost a Huntington homeowner around $16,000 for a 7-kilowatt system, according to Justin Strachan, a New York State solar ombudsman with Sustainable CUNY. Solarize Huntington could reduce that cost to somewhere around $12,000, he said.

Solar is already popular in Huntington Town, CUNY and town officials noted on Monday. Officials from Sustainable CUNY, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) attended a press conference launching the program on Monday at which Petrone said that last year, the town received 500 applications for solar installation permits.

“So that tells you the popularity and it tells you people are yearning for a program, for a supervised program, and something that’s going to be meaningful and cost-effective,” Petrone said.

Laurie Reilly, who directs communications for Sustainable CUNY, said the Solarize Huntington program is just one program among other solar initiatives funded by a more than $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant. She also said Huntington was selected for the program because, at the time of the grant application, the town committed to work with Sustainable CUNY to make solar more accessible to residents.

“Huntington was the first one to step up and the first one to say, ‘We would like to do this.’”

This isn’t the only thing Huntington Town has done in recent years to encourage and increase the use of solar power to cut down on the consumption of fossil fuels. The town recently approved a fast-track process for approval of solar installation permits and used a federal grant several years ago to install solar panels at town hall, the town said in a statement.

The program launch is thanks to the partnership of Sustainable CUNY, the New York Solar Smart Program, the town and the town’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables, and Sustainability, according to a town statement.

Residents interested in signing up for the program can do it online at solarizhuntington.com, or at one of the Solarize 101 informational workshops the town is sponsoring to help residents learn of the program’s benefits.

The first workshop will be held on Monday, May 11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at town hall.

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File photo

From unfunded mandates to grounds maintenance, school districts are burdened with many costs, but high energy bills don’t have to be one of them.

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) recently introduced legislation that would strengthen the state’s support of alternative energy systems in school districts. All types of alternative energy systems — whether solar, wind and/or geothermal  — would be eligible for state building aid. The legislation would also remove a requirement that has the systems meet an 18-year payback window in order to receive aid. These changes make sense, as they’ll empower school districts to go green while also saving taxpayers money.

A few school districts on the North Shore have discussed installing solar panels on their building roofs, while two — Miller Place and Three Village — are moving forward with plans to install the panels. In Miller Place, the panels are expected to save the district more than half its utility budget. In Three Village, by the time the project is paid off, the district could be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While we encourage other school districts to investigate how alternative energy systems could help their districts reduce costs, we also hope they’ll continue searching for ways to reduce their energy consumption. Replacing an energy source with a clean alternative is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t do anything to address a greater energy consumption problem that pervades our communities, including in our schools.

Pol pitches bill to broaden alternative energy use

State Sen. Carl Marcellino is behind new legislation aimed at aiding schools to go green. File photo by Elana Glowatz

School districts looking to go green could see more green for it, if proposed state legislation to help school districts pay for alternative energy projects makes its way through Albany.

New York State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) has sponsored legislation that would strengthen the state’s support for alternative energy in school districts. Currently, there’s state building aid available for the installation of wind and solar systems, but Marcellino’s legislation allows all types of alternative energy systems to be eligible for building aid.

Also, currently, only alternative energy systems that meet an 18-year payback window are eligible for aid, but Marcellino’s proposed law removes that requirement, according to Debbie Peck Kelleher, director of the state Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee.

“It would allow all systems to get the building aid,” Kelleher said.

Most districts see an average reimbursement between 70 to 75 percent of the project cost, she said.
In an interview last week, Marcellino said school districts turning to alternative energies provide a boon to taxpayers, because of energy savings in utility costs over time.

“It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Marcellino’s legislation has been referred to the Senate’s education committee, and has support from assemblymen Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) and Andy Raia (R-East Northport).

Long Island school officials have pondered solar panel installations, and some districts have embarked on projects of their own.

Last year, Miller Place school district green-lighted a $4.3 million project to install solar panels on the roofs of its four school buildings. The project qualified for $3.7 million in state aid, according to Danny Haffel, the executive director of energy solutions on Long Island of Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based technology and energy-savings solutions company that the district worked with. Haffel added that the project would save the district more than $243,000 — close to half of its utility budget — in annual energy costs.

Under the contract with Johnson Controls, the district, which would lease the panels for $362,528 a year over 15 years, would be guaranteed those savings, so that in case the savings are not realized through the solar panels, Johnson Controls would foot the bill.

“The Miller Place school district’s decision to pursue alternative energy projects including solar power will not only benefit the environment, but is anticipated to produce financial savings for the district,” Superintendent Marianne Higuera said in a statement. “If the use of alternative energy sources like solar can produce bottom-line cost savings for other school districts or municipalities like it is projected to do for our school district, then this option may be beneficial.”

Beefing up state aid to school districts for these kinds of systems is a good thing, Haffel said in an interview this week.

“What would be really cool and to me would make sense — which would in the long run help every school district and every taxpayer — is to make all renewable work 100 percent aidable and that the school district would receive 100 percent state aid,” he said. “Now you have no electric bill, and you just helped out the taxpayer for the rest of their lives.”

School administrators in Huntington and Northport-East Northport have considered going solar.

Julia Binger, president of the Northport-East Northport school board, said her district had discussions in the past about going solar, but found it to be too cost prohibitive. With this new legislation, combined with what officials have said is a drop in price for solar panels, going solar is “a question that would be worth reconsidering,” Binger said.

In Huntington, school board member Tom DiGiacomo noted that the district’s aging roofs could make solar costly for the district. But it’s still worth considering, he said.

“I think that we need to look at renewable energy as a way to saving money for school districts,” he said. “Quite honestly, the state should be empowering the school districts and the taxpayers ultimately to find ways to save money by using [renewable] energy.”