Monday, October 8, 2012

Brighten Up With Solar - And Earn Money For It

Neighbors living three bends down the Middle River have become bright role models.

Andy Bogdan Bindea, president of Sigora Solara,
helps customers with the installation of solar panels.

The Hites, Sandy and Slim, had solar panels installed this summer on a south-facing roof. On sunny days, they actually feed energy into the Shenandoah Valley Electrical Cooperative system.

Watching the co-op meter “run backward” gives them more pleasure than most TV programs. Another portable monitor in the kitchen provides seven other readings: daily kilowatt hour total, power used the day before, CO2 emissions avoided, revenue coming in. That’s quality screen time.

The couple always emanate positive energy, but they practically glow when talking about their solar project.

“It makes you want to not turn any lights on … and turn off everything you can to save even more,” Sandy said. Their latest electricity bill illustrates the pay back: $77 as opposed to $277 for August, 2011.

“It is so exciting to see that our solar system is producing 80 percent of the power we are using,” the JMU instructor added.

Our neighbors’ experiment generated my interest. I felt a little green with envy, frankly, as they described the pleasures of knowing that their decision makes sense for the planet as well as their pocketbook.

I learned from the Hites, and others, that SVEC has been very flexible with solar installations. Some utilities have been far less cooperative with small generating projects. Sandy recommended that I call Sigora Solara for a tutorial about details of cost, design, operation and efficiencies. This local company recently installed solar panels on the YMCA in Waynesboro.

The president, Andy Bogdan Bindea, with his Romanian accent and energetic gesturing, provided a lecture on solar power in terms that even I understood. His wife, Rachel Isak, has been a fine enculturation tutor, not to mention essential start-up supporter.

The towering immigrant – who will swear his allegiance to America at the Frontier Culture Museum this month — laid out a hypothetical project for our barn roof. The example would offset 60 percent of our current electricity use. That’s less than the Hite’s capacity, but we would still “keep up with the Jones” under this scenario.

Costs for design, paneling, wiring and labor would run about as much as a small car. Over the expected 25-plus years the system should last, we could earn 10-12 percent on our investment. The project should pay for itself in about eight or nine years. I liked the numbers, but I failed most classes that entailed numbers. A trusty CPA will double-check the calculations before/if we put up a solar system.

As we talked figures, Andy also shared a ray of hope about the Valley’s political landscape and greener energy.

Folks from across the Red-to-Blue spectrum are installing cleaner, renewable energy systems: wind, geothermal, bio-fuel, solar, etc. No matter our take on global warming, we value greater self-reliance, cleaner water and air, and a more stable electrical grid.

See The News Leader’s Aug. 26 special feature on the dangers posed to the power grid. Shocking.

That’s a sentiment found the world over.

Developing renewable energy is a planetary undertaking, as well as a serious national defense concern for the U.S. Supporting renewable is a red, white, blue and green act — saving both money and the natural environment when done right.

If you want greater enlightenment about the solar energy options, consider taking the free, self-guided Shenandoah Valley Solar Tour.The second annual event Oct. 6 highlights examples of energy-saving projects up and down the I-81 corridor. The tour includes hand-built solar heaters as well as professional, high-powered installations.


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