Business, property owners find they have the power to save

PERU As the topic of rising energy costs dominates the headlines these days, more and more people are examining alternative sources for their electricity and heating needs. James R. Langley Jr., owner of Langley Insurance Agency, based in the town of Peru, said he has found benefits from going solar from the commercial side, if the business owner is committed to the long haul. On my day-to-day and my year-to-year, yes, Im saving, but I up-fronted a lot of money to begin with to do it, Langley said. When Langley had his building constructed on Bear Swamp Road in 2006, he had already planned to incorporate solar technology into the design. After seeing an advertisement about solar power in a local business magazine, Langley decided to learn more and had estimates drawn up to determine the feasibility of the venture. When youre constructing something new, youre kind of concerned about construction costs, he explained. He found the cost to be feasible, and its a decision with which Langley said hes glad he moved forward. The buildings solar panels collect and produce two-thirds of the electricity the business uses. That, combined with using natural gas to heat the building, has meant quite the savings, he said. My total utilities cost heat and lights was only $720 last year, for this building, and thats primarily just the heating, said Langley, who added he uses an extremely efficient heating system from Germany. You spend a little more to begin with, but you use less, and have a smaller carbon footprint. Currently, Langley rents space for his second office in Plattsburgh, though he said if he were ever to build his own building there, hed go solar. One basically doesnt cost me anything [for electricity], the other costs me a couple hundred a month, probably, said Langley. Yeah, Id do another green building; theres no doubt in my mind. When business owners examine converting their buildings to solar power, Langley said he suggests they utilize a contractor who is certified by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The certification, he said, allows the approval and paperwork process to move at a more expedited rate. In the town of Westport, town councilman and professional builder Tim Sherman installed a similar system in his home. There, he uses a large solar panel to generate electricity and an evacuated heat tube system uses the solar energy to heat his water. Like Langley, Sherman began looking for energy 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, similar to those offered for commercial businesses like Langleys. Grants for both residential and commercial structures are also available through NYSERDA, awarded to those 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. In Shermans case, the grant allowed him 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 one-third of the total cost. Assuming an average 8 percent annual increase in electricity costs, Sherman anticipates 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 warranty 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 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. Valley News editor Matt Bosley contributed to this report.

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