By Karl Grossman
Last week, for the first time, I saw our LIPA meter go backwards.
What a sight—that little wheel going not to the right, marking a draw from the Long Island Power Authority electric system, but spinning—and spinning fast—to the left. That signified that the photovoltaic panels newly installed on the roof of our house were not only supplying all the electricity we were using but feeding excess back into the LIPA grid.
And LIPA, under its net metering program, is to credit us for this electricity.
And, if those panels generate more electricity at the end of the year than we use—which is expected—LIPA is to send us a check!
You can do the same thing. Also, with tax credits and the LIPA rebate available,Â you can do it with an astounding financial break—as of this year, a whopping 70 percent off the cost of a solar photovoltaic installation.
For decades I’ve been writing about solar power—including in this space. But it took doing a TV documentary this summer, “Renewable Energy Is More Than Ready,” for WVVH-TV, to make solar energy more real. Sometimes you have to be there, see something to really appreciate it.
A main figure in the documentary was Gordian Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island. He spoke about the importance of solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies at RELI’s office in East Hampton, but I felt we should also film at his home, which he has long told me was a “solar house.” Indeed, at it was an array of solar photovotaic panels producing all the electricity he and his wife need. And also solar thermal panels providing hot water.
Mr. Raacke spoke about how affordable it was with tax credits and the LIPA rebate. (Input the title and you can view the documentary on YouTube.com.) I was convinced. My wife, Janet, had wanted solar panels for years.
So we arranged to have solar photovoltaic and solar hot water panels put on the roof of our house, a south-facing century-old saltbox in Noyac.
The work was done by Majestic Son and Sons of Patchogue. If the Obama administration is looking for infrastructure projects that produce jobs and have a grandÂ energy pay-off, solar energy truly is Number One.
A swarm of Majestic workers, including the company’s president, Dean Hapshe, a pioneer in solar power, and two of his sons, were all over our roof merrily installing panels. Mrs. Hapshe is office manager; Majestic is quite a family affair. (We took bids from a number of companies and the choice was hard—all seemed highly competent and highly committed to solar energy.)
Mr. Hapshe has been in solar energy for 29 years. It was his first job after graduating college. He decided, “Wow, this is what I want to do. And I’ve done it forever.”
“It’s limitless,” says Mr. Hapshe excitedly about solar power. “And it’s free.” Moreover, in recent years, with the specter of global warming, he sees it as vital. “I’m in an industry that I love. I’m really doing something good for my world.” He is thrilled with the advances in solar technology—“getting better and better all the time.”
And when he is “finished with a job, I watch that meter spin backwards—and that sends tingles up my spine every time.”
As noted, the final price is a veritable bonanza. A 3,000-watt photovoltaic system (what the Raackes have) is priced at $27,000; our 7,600-watt system $63,000. But that isn’t what you pay. LIPA reimburses you $3.50 for each installed watt of photovoltaic power. New York State provides a tax credit of $5,000. And approved last year (to run for nine years) is a federal tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of the job. Crunch those numbers: you end up paying 30 percent of the price. Tax credits for a solar hot water system, typically costing $7,500, cut its price in half.
It’s just fabulous to see, even on a cloudy day, the electricity flowing from the photovoltaic panels. It’s amazing to see, even on the cold but sunny days of recent weeks, water coming down from the roof from the thermal panels at 100 to 120 degrees.
Imagine if houses all over Long Island and the U.S. were equipped with solar panels. It’s energy independence—courtesy of the sun and a life-affirming energy technology.