NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 22, 2013

Solar panels bring more savings to Tom's Discount

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY — When the owner of Tom’s Discount Store turns on his air conditioning this summer, it will be the first time he doesn’t fear that flipping the switch will cause his electric bills to spike.

Tom Newman is fulfilling a long-time goal this week as he installs more than 150 photovoltaic solar panels on the back half and south-facing part of his roof at the Elm Street business. The panels should cut Newman’s summer electric bills almost in half. In the past, they have reached as high as $1,500.

The savings means the project will pay for itself in five years, Newman said.

Newman has watched the progress of the solar industry for years with an eye to implementing it for his 15,000-square-foot retail store. His motivation wasn’t only to save money, but also to become a “greener” business, shrinking his carbon footprint. After watching a solar electrical generating business go up on nearby Rabbit Road, Newman thought the time had come to move on his idea.

“I said, ‘Wow, how can I do that?” Newman said. “I made some calls. It looked possible.”

Getting a quote he though was reasonable, Newman brought the solar panel provider to his accountant’s office.

“I told him, ‘If you can sell my accountant on this, I’ll do it,’” Newman said. “After listening, my accountant was on board, but he asked me to get another bid to make sure we were getting a good price.”

Newman got two more bids and learned he had a wise accountant. One of the new bids was from a long0established, nation-wide company, Real Good Solar, and it was significantly lower than the others.

According to Real Good Solar’s Travis Genatossio, the solar panel business has changed a lot since the company began in 1978, largely due to two reasons. First, the cost of the technology has come down significantly since its early days. And second, there are green energy incentive programs in many states, like Massachusetts, that make solar energy more cost-effective.

There are rebate incentives for both homeowners and businesses that install solar panels, he said. Those producing at least 1,000 kilowatts of solar-generated energy a year are eligible to earn Solar Renewable Energy Credits that lower the costs even more.

“Part of the reason for programs like this is to respond to environmental needs. The use of solar energy offsets (electricity produced from) coal burning plants (which generate more air pollution),” Genatossio said. “And in part, these programs jump start the solar market.”

Once only large companies could afford solar energy, Genatossio said, but today his crew’s installation numbers have increased, and include not only small businesses like Tom’s Discount, but also residential units.

For Newman, everything fell into place, both environmentally and financially. According to his agreement with Real Good Solar, the photovoltaic solar panels on his roof will generate about 38,000 kilowatts of electricity a year.

Each panel is hooked up to a computer, which tracks its productivity, he said. Since Real Good Solar guarantees its estimate within 1 percent of total, if panels aren’t producing as expected, the company comes back to fix the problem, he said.

And in the winter when his electric costs decrease, if the panels produce more electricity than Newman needs, he can sell it back to National Grid.

Genatossio said snow won’t interfere with the panels’ function. Snow-covered panels will heat up when the sun hits them. Just like a windshield, the snow will melt and they’ll perform as expected.

From start to finish, the installation is taking about three weeks, said Newman, who expects the project to be operational over the next few days.

“I’m excited about this; I’ve been wanting it for a long time,” Newman said. “I don’t know why more people aren’t doing it.”