Solar energy is still hot

April 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Click photo to enlargeWhen one drove around in the early 1950s, television antennas were popping up everywhere, heralding the coming of the TV age.

Today there is another harbinger on the horizon – solar panels.

“We’ve put in about 115 systems and we still have about 50 to do yet,” said Brian McNew, owner of EarthNet, a solar manufacturing and distributing company in Chambersburg. “As utilities rise, people start looking for alternatives. And we’re in this business to help people save money.”

Solar use continues to increase among commercial businesses, despite a slowdown in incentives. Dr. Amy Hinton’s practice, Mountain View Veterinary Services, Shippensburg, has made the move to solar in a significant way.

“Basically our solar panels are covering 75 percent of the farm and veterinary clinic,” she said. “We have had them since February of last year.

“We really were looking for something green – environmentally friendly. We wanted to find something like wind or solar. I did quite a bit of research on wind but for our location, we didn’t have the level of wind activity needed. So we ended up contacting several solar suppliers.

“We discovered that the location of our one barn is very optimal for solar production. At the time, though, the renewable revenue credits which we got were attractive. Unfortunately, they have dropped significantly in value, so now it is less attractive to put solar up.”

Renewable credits are units earned by using alternative methods of generating electricity. They then can be brokered on something like an exchange. Unfortunately for locals, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that permit out-of-state residents to come in and broker their units – thereby driving down the price. Of course, the robust increase in the number of homes and businesses using solar power contributes to this also.

Dr. Hinton interviewed several people in the solar business.

“There are quite a few differences between who manufactures the solar panels as far as longevity,” she said. “Some are only 10-year panels and others 30-year. We have a 30-year warranty on our panels. We felt that we were not only being green with the solar production but with the fact, hopefully, these panels are going to last a long time (so) we can save on electricity.

“We don’t generate energy into a battery,” she continued. “We go directly to the grid, so basically it is kind of fun to watch the meter run backwards. It is nice to see a $9 electric bill sometimes. We figure it will take about 10 years to pay back the home equity loan that we used. If the renewable credit revenue was back where it was when we first decided to do this, it would have been about a six-year payback.

“But we’re really pleased and I would recommend solar to other business.”

Penn National has also taken advantage of the sun’s energy producing potential.

“We thought it would be good to heat our hot water with energy from the sun rather than another source,” said Vice President Patti Nitterhouse. “We are using it to heat the hot water in our laundry at the Inn. That uses the most hot water on the property. So being responsible business people, we felt where you can do something that is good for the environment and save money, it was a logical thing to look into.

“EarthNet did a really good job of doing their homework. They came in and helped us figure out what would work best for us and they really were involved with lining up all of the paperwork.

That’s not to say that it didn’t cost us. It did. But where we can be green, our goal is to do so.” Nitterhouse even drives a hybrid vehicle.

According to McNew, businesses that use large amounts of hot water – such as dairy farms, butcher shops, restaurants, car washes and Laundromats – are giving solar a good look. The Frey Dairy Farm on Falling Spring Road is a good example. Cliff Frey, who is the third generation Frey to operate the dairy, ventured into solar this January. They milk about 220 cows twice a day and the hot water is used to clean the milking system and the milk tank. The system is cleaned twice a day and the milk tank every other day.

“I believe it was kind of an experiment for EarthNet, as I understand it,” Frey said. “When it is sunny, the water gets up to 170 degrees, then we use electricity to get it up to the required 180 degrees. I’m assuming that we will see savings on our electric bill, but it is too soon to tell right now. But it seems to be working all right.”

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