Solar panels added to Greencastle home

A crew installs solar panels on the roof while homeowner Paul Politis, left, meets with Dan Roth, project manager from Greenspring Energy. The new source for electricity has been gaining interest in Pennsylvania.

Solar panels were installed at the Greencastle home of Paul Politis and his wife Sandy in mid-October, and the energy savings started as soon as the switch was flipped for the thermal heating system.

Politis’ plan to adopt a renewable energy source was as much philosophical as economical.

“This may not pay off in my lifetime,” he said of the expensive project, “but it’s a great way to save money, and pollution-free energy is the important thing.”

Greenspring Energy project manager Dan Roth interjected that Politis could recover his out-of-pocket money in eight to 10 years.

“Oh yeah, then I’ll still be around,” Politis said with a laugh.

Roth’s company, based in Timonium, Md. and Reading, formed three years ago in response to the downed market for new homes. Contractors were out of work and looking for jobs in the same industry. That was about the same time the Politis home on Homestead Drive burned down. Rather than rebuild with their three neighbors, who also lost their houses in the multiple-dwelling blaze, the couple moved into a spec home at 357 Blue Bird Trail. It was served by a heat pump.

When a Certificate of Deposit came due, Politis noticed that the interest rate was “ridiculously low,” so he opted to use the money for a purpose that would create a longterm benefit of some kind. He researched solar energy and contacted five companies for a bid. Only Greenspring called back.

Politis figured the other companies were scared off if they found views of his home on the Internet using satellite technology. They would have seen the multiple rooflines. Roth came out to personally inspect, and determined the project was feasible. The dormers were not too intrusive and the roof faced south for the most sun exposure.

The Greencastle house was the first Franklin County customer for Greenspring, which has also worked in Washington County.

Politis went for two solar thermal panels for his hot water heater, expected to save 80 percent of that energy cost, and 15 photovoltaic panels for regular heat. Sandy predicted they would save 47 percent on their electric bill each year.

Through federal, state and local incentives, Politis cut his installation expense in half. Consumers are eligible for various rebates, tax credits and energy credits from the government and power companies. If Politis uses less than he produces, he will get a credit on his monthly bill from Allegheny Power.

The financial assistance for residential and business endeavors softens the blow from the initial outlay. The Facts About Solar Energy website estimated the average cost to outfit a three-bedroom home in the northeastern United States ranged from $13,000 to $27,000.

An option

Politis chose the alternative energy source after he, like many others, became  aware of options in recent years. He hoped developers and builders would begin to construct buildings more conducive to solar power, too.

“I consider it the definition of a growth industry,” he commented.

Roth agreed. “There is a return on investment and it promotes a healthy environment.”

Allegheny has seen a change in its customer base as well. Doug Colafella, manager of external communications, said last year 35 customers of all sizes installed alternative generating sources. Most of them were solar. Already in 2010, 75 customers had converted and another 100 have submitted applications to alter their supply source, while still using Allegheny for unmet needs.

“We are seeing a real ramp-up, mostly solar, and we accomodate them well,” Colafella said.

The customers join the net metering program. A new meter measures the difference between the energy the client produces and the amount they purchase.

Some of the interest in different energy sources could be due to the deregulation of electricity on Dec. 31. Colafella said many headlines predicted rate increases up to 70 percent, but they were off-base. If Allegheny’s last power auction on Oct. 22 followed the trend of the others, he announced that the rate increase for an average home would be just 4.1 percent in 2011, and businesses could see a two percent drop.

The average household that used 1,000 kWh per month would see a $3.72 increase on the bill.

“Deregulation doesn’t drive the rates, the market does,” he said. The current economy was a factor.

The move toward solar energy is a fraction of the alternative power sources Allegheny is required to incorporate into its business model by 2021. The Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard Act of 2004 requires electricity providers to obtain 17.5 percent of their supply from different sources, including wind, biomass, geothermal, fuel cells, waste coal, hydropower and others. Solar fills just one-half of one percent of the quota.

Colafella said Allegheny was neutral on the law, but made sure the legislature was aware of the expenses associated with any new energy system, since all costs Allegheny incurred were passed along to customers.

As the move to solar continued to impact the electric company, Colafella said, “It’s an attractive option in an environmentally-friendly way.”