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First SanCap Solar Connect Program meeting draws crowd at ‘Ding’

By Staff | Nov 11, 2015

Jason Szumlanski, who represented Urban Solar Group, shares information with one of the many residents who attended the informational meeting. MEGHAN McCOY

The education room at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was filled last week with residents who were interested in learning more about a grid interactive solar electric system.

SanCap Solar Connect Committee Chairman John McCabe said the meeting was held as an effort for the community to gain information quickly on solar electricity. The program was started, he said, because the Ding Darling Wildlife Society wanted to help drive the price down of solar panels for the community.

“The program is based on several solarized efforts throughout the country,” McCabe said.

During the meeting, McCabe shared why a deadline of Feb. 15, 2016, was set to purchase the solar panels. He said they want to ensure they have an interested group. It is also important because the 30 percent federal tax credit expires at the end of 2016.

The federal government, until the end of next year, will cover 30 percent of the installation cost, which individuals will see when filing their taxes.

“In order to be qualified, you not only have to agree to have a system, but it has to be installed and hooked up to LCEC and it has to be working,” McCabe said, adding that they do not want to get caught up in the possible rush of individuals wanting to install solar panels at the end of next year. “We want to have it done so the whole system works for everybody.”

When solar electricity is purchased as a group, the savings is based on the total kilowatts for the entire group. The savings equates to about 26 percent off the regular market charges, if 150 to 200 kilowatts is met.

Under the SanCap Solar Connect program, the system will cost around $18,000, for individuals to save $100 on their electric bill.

McCabe shared information about his home during the presentation because he had solar panels installed in 2008. With a 5.2 kilowatt system, it took care of about half of his electric expenses. In 2012, he said additional panels were installed, a 6.4 kilowatt system, designed to take care of the remaining electricity used in his home and charging of his electric vehicles.

“This year we have about 1,000, 100 kilowatts that are in reserves,” McCabe said, adding that at the end of the year LCEC will buy the kilowatts in reserves from them.

He shared his latest LCEC bill, which was for $20.36.

Jason Szumlanski, who represented Urban Solar Group, the contractor selected for the SanCap Solar Connect Program, provided details about the grid interactive solar electric system, which is what the program will be using.

“This is not a battery-based system, it does not work during power outages. This is literally a second utility company powering your home,” he said. “The solar panels work in parallel with the utility company. The panels on the roof produce DC electricity. That gets converted to AC power your home can use with an inverter or a micro inverter. That inverter is fed into your home’s existing electrical system. That all happens completely seamlessly.”

The excess power that is generated during the day is delivered to the utility grid, providing the user with a one-to-one account credit for the electricity that is produced.

“It basically goes into a bank and you can use that credit in the future for when you are consuming more energy than you producing,” Szumlanski said.

Net metering was also discussed during the meeting. He said individuals will be charged for the net amount of energy that they use on a monthly basis. In other words, Szumlanski said, if they have a sizable system that produces more energy in April than they consume, they will get a credit on their bill, which can be applied to future monthly bills.

“At the end of the year, the excess production over your consumption, they (LCEC) will give you a bill credit,” he said.

As part of the program, a set type of panels and inverters were selected as options to be installed if an individual choses to be a part of the program.

Three kilowatts, equal to 12 solar panels, is the minimum size installation. Two inverters, the SMA, a set of panels in a string that feeds power, and the micro inverter that converts power on each module individually are the choices.

“I like the idea of being able to see what that panel is doing on any given day,” he said of the per panel monitoring.

The Unirac mounting system, which is also a part of the program, Szumlanski said, will be compatible with an individual’s roof. The system is designed to withstand 170 mile per hour winds, due to the islands wind zone.

“Depending on where you live on the island there may be some additional attachments required,” he said. “The number of attachment posts to your roof determines how much wind uplift your system can withstand. This system is going to stay attached to your roof. If a catastrophic event happens and the whole roof goes, unfortunately your panels are going with it.”

The initial cost for the system, Szumlanski said, is an after tax investment that will pay for itself within seven to 13 years.

“What if I told you I will sell you 25 years of gasoline for $2. Then you can come back and pick it up every year after that. You will never have to pay more than $2 for gasoline for the next 25 years,” he asked the crowd. “That’s basically what you are doing when you install a solar energy system. You are preparing for the energy that the system will put out over the next 25 years.”

It is fairly easy for individuals to sign up for the SanCap Solar Connect Program. Those who attended the Nov. 3 meeting had the chance to sign a sheet showing their interest. Individuals can also sign up at www.sancapsolarconnect.org.

“Someone from the solar group will connect with you in just a few days and we will go from there,” McCabe said.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.