solar panels

Solar Company Complications

Construction work on the solar barn.

Construction work on the solar barn.

By Cyndy Kopitsky

With all of the solar panel company advertising, the information and talks at the EPA on solar power, and as a concerned citizen who tries to conserve energy and be a smart shopper, it makes perfect sense to explore solar power. At least, that is what my husband and I thought in the summer of 2010. Have you ever considered purchasing solar panels for your home?

We started this journey contacting several companies that serviced our area. They were quick to respond and we had three appointments to discuss the options and the costs. To our surprise, each company had a much different plan ranging from ‘your roof is good for the panels if you cut a few trees down” to “you cannot use your roof, there is too much shade even if you cut down the trees.”

After many shade reports, many site visits to our home and many phone conservations, we decided to trust and explore the company that said we could use our roof. The next move before construction began was to cut five trees that provided shading to the home in the hot summer months and privacy along the side of the house. I tried to convince myself that this sacrifice of cutting mature oak trees was to help save the earth, but somehow I still had regrets.

Within days after the trees were cut, the solar company’s senior engineer and three reps came to the house for the final inspection before we signed contracts. Within minutes after they were on the roof, my husband and I heard some loud voices that quickly escalated. We were presented immediately with the problem they were facing.

The roof was not strong enough and would NOT support the solar array!

All I could think of was those trees and all the birds that had to find new locations for their nests, all the wood that had to get cut, how we would have no privacy, how the house would be so hot, and how we killed perfectly beautiful, thriving trees for no reason!

After we adjusted to the disappointments and after much more research, we decided to build an above ground solar barn measuring 40 x 16 feet and 16 feet high. Winter approached soon thereafter and our priorities shifted to recovering from our house fire (another environmental story.) This followed with two more company opinions and money spent in vain on another “I can do this” solar company we hired to build the barn and install panels. At that point, we were finally ready for the state to inspect in the fall of 2012.

To our surprise, we failed the inspection for 32 points and were advised to remove all the panels and make the repairs. We refused to give up. Frustrated, over-invested, and still determined to save the earth, we looked for yet another company to save us.

It is now 2014 and our solar panels have been up and running since September 2013. We have been impressed with the utility savings and the carbon emissions reduced by going solar. My recommendation to you would be, if you’re considering solar, watch what you ask for!

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky works in the Clean Water Division as coordinator for the national Urban Waters Small Grant program. Her many personal interests include, caring for rescue parrots and macaws from unwanted homes. This includes baking “birdie breads”, preparing special hot birdie veggie dishes, and purchasing foraging toys. She loves to cook and bake (even for people), eat healthy foods, take many vitamin supplements, and she tries to respect to the environment with her life style choices.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Energy Independence Day

By Steve Donohue

Seventeen years ago when my wife and I went house shopping, we looked for a home with large kitchen windows that would let the sun stream in because I knew this would help heat the house and save energy.

As an environmental scientist in EPA’s Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia, I try to practice what I preach by doing everything I can to save energy at home. Many of my efforts are simple like switching to LED light bulbs and hanging my clothes to dry on the clothes line instead of wasting energy with a power-hogging dryer. Other efforts were a bit more complicated like crawling around in my attic to seal up drafts and add insulation. There were even some unexpected jobs too, like fixing the hole my son made by stepping through the ceiling while he was helping me. I knew these improvements would pay for themselves in no time and they did – reducing our power use by almost 50 percent.

In 2010, we decided to tackle the supply side of the equation by installing photovoltaic solar panels. This was not an easy decision. I wasn’t worried about the technology because I have a solar calculator from 1980 that still works fine, but the return on our investment was supposed to take five years, and by then I knew I would need some cash to replace my aging truck. On the plus side, our roof was new and the slope was just right for installing solar panels. After considering all factors, we decided to take the plunge and get full benefit of tax breaks, financing and rebates offered by Pennsylvania and the federal government. Also, it was nice to know in our own small way we were creating “green jobs” for a local contractor and a factory in Kentucky where the solar panels were manufactured.

A few days after the 4th of July in 2010 we had our own “energy” Independence Day. It has been great! We have had zero maintenance and we get credited for any electricity we don’t use that is sent out to the grid. In 2011, we generated 84 percent of our own electricity, spending less than $260 for power that year. Our goal is to have a net zero energy house in 2012 by swapping out our 17-year old refrigerator.

Sounds good right? Well almost. The market for clean power tanked and our payback is now more like 10 years. So, it looks like I’ll be keeping my old truck a little longer. In the mean time, I tell everyone my new truck is on the roof!

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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