by Susan Hellauer
Here Comes The Sun is more than a classic Beatles song. For New York State, the Village of Nyack and community volunteers, it’s also a call to action – and to economize — on energy usage. Solarize Nyack, a joint local and New York State effort that’s part of the three-year Sustainable Hudson Valley program, offers discounts to residential and commercial customers to expand clean energy. There’s a community workshop on the program for Rockland County residents on Wed May 4 at Orangetown Town Hall and May 17 at The Nyack Center. Consumers who want to take advantage of the negotiated discount need to register for a free site assessment by June 30. Here’s the second and final article in this two part series on local and state efforts to use free energy from above to cut costs and greenhouse gases.
This is the second installment of this two part series. If you are interested in learning more about Solarize Nyack plus and Solarize Hudson Valley, there’s a free workshop hosted by Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart and Solarize Nyack explaining benefits and how the NYS Solarize Hudson Valley group-discounting program works on Wed May 4th at 7p in Orangetown Town Hall, 26 W. Orangeburg Rd, Orangeburg.
When it comes to solar, there are some who have yet to see the light. Or, perhaps they think solar fanatics have been blinded by the light.
South Nyack carpenter Paul Friedrich expressed distrust of the significant government subsidies for solar and of panels made in China. “When the industry is robust enough that it doesn’t need to be subsidized, and can survive on its own, then I’ll be in the market. And I don’t want to subsidize Chinese manufacturing over American.” Solarize Nyack says their installers use panels from China, South Korea and the United States and representatives of both companies state that American-made panels are always available for customers who prefer them.
Solar boosters seek subsidies, according to Solarize’s John Wackman, because more solar now will mean cheaper solar soon. Nyack’s Brad Wieners has taken the solar test — and failed. His family and home had a solar energy assessment a while back, but their electric demand was too low to justify installation. Wieners instead opted for windmill-produced power from Green Mountain Energy. “I consider myself a conservationist, and I’m one of those people who, if it’s a wash, or maybe even just a touch more expensive, would go solar,” he said. “I’d do it to contribute to the economy of scale, bringing down the cost for everyone. And I’d like to be the one who gets the solar wave rolling in my neighborhood. So, yes, solar is most definitely on my list.”
About those panels . . .
Panels and inverters used in the Solarize program carry 25-year manufacturers’ warranties and labor is covered for ten years (twice the NYSERDA requirement). “If you have an old roof,” says Doug Hertz of Sunrise Solar Solutions “we’re going to recommend that you replace at least that part of the roof that solar will be on.” He goes on to say that solar panels “will extend the life of the new roof, by protecting it from UV rays and precipitation,” and assures homeowners that a solar installation does not void a roof’s warranty.
Solar panels will absolutely reduce your share of the fossil fuel load, but the impact of their manufacture and disposal has raised serious concerns. Water, electricity, and extreme greenhouse-gas-emitting chemicals like sulfur hexaflouride could negate the positives, and solar panel factories both use and emit compounds dangerous to the environment and their workers (e.g., silane gas, silicon tetrachloride, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid . . . ). So far, relatively few panels have been discarded: some panels from as far back as 1978 are still in use. Recycling and safe disposal plans remain largely a TBD action item on the green agenda.
But there’s help for the earth-conscious consumer. The watchdog nonprofit Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition publishes an annual ranking of solar panel makers. Their 2015 report on 40 companies shows America’s SunPower and SolarWorld as greenest, and China’s Trina just behind them. Scores are calculated on a number of environmental and social factors, including “prison labor.”
No solar for you?
The point of the Solarize program is to find those buildings (and their owners) well-suited to going solar, perhaps becoming that “keystone” solar home on a block. Not long ago, Nyack mayor Jen Laird White noticed a house on her block with solar panels, and she thought: “If they can do it, then we certainly can.” She’s already had her Solarize assessment and is waiting eagerly for the results.
But it’s clear that not every building, home or family is solar ready.
Homes with very low electric bills, or those with little usable roof exposure to the southern sky (like the many river village homes surrounded by tall trees), would not benefit enough from solar right now to take the plunge. Urgent repairs can push the solar investment, even with all of the financial incentives, down the priority list.
If your solar assessment shows a net positive amount of solar energy over a 12-month period, you’re good for solar savings. If it doesn’t, then solar shouldn’t and, in this program, won’t be installed. NYSERDA must be convinced of that net positive, before approving your Solarize project, according to Wackman.
Solar Fan, Matt Hudson
The proprietor and renowned dessert chef of Nyack’s Hudson House chose a “no upfront cost” solar leasing option earlier this year. He’ll save a steady one-third off his electric bill (no recoup of investment, since the solar company is essentially “renting his roof” as a solar generator). He will also achieve an important personal goal: “I like the idea of alternative energy,” says Hudson. “If we don’t do something about the environment right now, there won’t be much left for our grandchildren.”
Hudson says his solar installation was an “all good, win-win-win” experience. If you want more details, Matt encourages the curious to stop by Hudson House to talk “solar shop” stuff.
Not right or ready for solar now? Don’t despair. You can still do your part for the planet. Nyack builder David Scharf urges homeowners to think carefully before going solar, ask lots of questions and, above all, look at the entirety of their home and family energy picture. He strongly suggests a full NYSERDA home energy audit, which, he says, “assesses energy consumption unique to the house and the family living in it (which is very cool), and amortizes the payback.” It’s free for many, and priceless for all.
Nyack’s environmental visionary Marcy Denker is already looking beyond Solarize to build a solar community that can provide energy to residents who, for whatever reason, can’t have solar on their homes. Some of these homes have been beneficiaries of Nyack’s Tree Committee, which looks to save energy by providing shade on the south and west sides of houses.
The shade vs. solar irony is not lost on the amiable activist. “Well, it’s just the flip side of the same thing, isn’t it?” says Denker.
Upcoming Solarize Nyack Events include
- Wed May 4 at 7p: Orangetown Town Hall. Register here.
- Tues May 17, 6:30p: Nyack Center. Register here.
- Sun May 15, 10a-5p Nyack Street Fair
Note: To be a part of Solarize Nyack discount program, you must register for a free site assessment by June 30, 2016. You can register online or at an any of the scheduled public events. To receive the Solarize Community Discount (the 10%+ off market price that our installers are offering for this limited time) participants must sign a residential contract by July 31 (for homeowners) or a commercial contract (for businesses) by August 31.
- Solarize Nyack: One Step Into The Light (part one of this two part series), 4/29/2016
- Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, research and advocacy non-profit concerned with human health and environmental justice in response to the rapid growth of the high-tech industry.
- NYSERDA home energy audit: Residents and homeowners can take action to increase the comfort of their homes while lowering energy bills and reducing energy waste.
- Solarize Hudson Valley’s Nyack Initiative
- Village of Nyack Endorses Solarize Nyack
- Nyack’s Sustainability Action Plan
- Governor Cuomo Announces 900 Solar Projects Underway Through 26 Community Solarize Campaigns Across the State, 2/19/2016
- Gov. Cuomo May Order 50% Renewable Energy In NY By 2030, CleanTechnica.com 11/24/2015
- NYSERDA Announces Increased Access to Solar for Low- to Moderate-Income Homeowners, NYSERDA 11/5/2015
- Lyrics to One Step Into The Light by the Moody Blues