Friends of Salt Springs State Park president Tom Stoll (top, with clipboard) gestures to the Williams Company Pavilion as he provides details about a solar energy system installed last summer. Jim Belmont (above, right) of Lakeside and his brother Joe from Florida, check out the interpretive panel at Salt Springs State Park that explains the installation of a solar panel system on the Williams Company Pavilion in the background.
Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
Friends of Salt Springs Park hosted a presentation on Saturday about the potential of solar energy. The impetus behind the talks was to encourage local residents to consider solar energy as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels and to showcase solar panels on site that are already producing much of the electricity the park needs.
Friends president Tom Stoll welcomed attendees and introduced David Robbins and Bill Notorianni of SunPulse Solar, a solar panel installation company with an office in Bloomsburg. Salt Springs environmental educator Concetta Schirra helped to facilitate the presentation.
“People in the area don’t realize the potential viability and affordability to produce their own power in our somewhat dreary climate,” said Schirra. “I think that solar is the way to go as far as tapping into renewable sources.”
Barbara Clifford of Montrose sees solar power as a means to reduce mankind’s energy footprint and a potential step toward energy independence. “Climate change is happening, and we have to stop denying that we are causing it,” Clifford remarked. “The temperature of the planet has increased every year since we’ve had records.”
Clifford was one of several program participants who agreed to have SunPulse representatives visit her home. Jim Belmont of Lakeside also expressed an interest. He was interested in the inner workings of the systems that SunPulse installs but was not yet convinced that the investment was feasible for him.
Robbins explained that the free consultations include an assessment of where the panels could be placed for maximum efficiency, options for financing that can include tax credits and a USDA REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) grant, and prospects for return on investment (ROI). Some homeowners, he noted, are simply looking to reduce their overall energy costs, while others want to produce 100 percent of their electricity.
The SunPulse systems convert DC power from the panels to AC current that can be used directly by the homeowner via micro-inverters under each panel or a wall-mounted inverter. On days when the panels are producing more energy than can be used, the extra electricity can be stored in batteries or fed back into the grid. Batteries are getting better all the time, Robbins related, but are not yet as cost effective as most would like.
Net metering at the source accurately records how much power goes into the grid by a system of credits, the value of which can vary greatly from one electric supplier to another. When the homeowner needs to use electricity off the grid, the credits in the meter on site are used first. Not surprisingly, the panels produce the most electricity in the spring and summer. Equally logical is that panels oriented due south will be the most efficient, though Robbins said that his company regularly installs panels facing east and west.
Robbins debunked the notion, however, that producing more electricity than needed with the installation of additional panels would be financially beneficial. With current electricity rates just over 10 cents per kilowatt hour, he explained, most electric companies are only paying four and a half to seven cents for energy produced by such systems.
The upside, according to Robbins and Notorianni are low maintenance and, when installed on the roof a home, an increased R-value and protection of the roof from the elements. “There are no moving parts like a windmill,” said Robbins. Today’s panels are constructed from materials that provide a 35- to 40-year life expectancy. Solar panels also increase the value of a home when it is put on the market, Robbins noted.
As for aesthetics, Notorianni suggested that people who live in areas that are not yet using a lot of solar power are also not accustomed to the look of a newly installed system. In New Jersey, by contrast, where as many as 15 percent of homes and businesses use solar power, people no longer see the panels as unsightly. If installed properly, he added, the panels should look as if they are part of the home. The panels do not have to be installed on the roof of the house, Robbins noted. SunPulse has used garage, barn and car port roofs and also has numerous customers who prefer ground mounts.
The talk moved outside, where Stoll took participants to the Williams Company Pavilion, which was constructed about five years ago. Friends members had the foresight, Stoll explained, to orient the structure with a roof facing due south and at the perfect pitch to collect as much sun as possible.
The Friends then inquired of DCNR representatives about the possibility of installing solar panels, and $50,000 in funding was made available for the project. The 10.14 kilowatt system went on line in August 2017 and has produced about nine thousand kilowatt hours of electricity so far. Through a deal with local service provider Claverack, credits are applied to three separate accounts at the park.
The distance from the pavilion to where electricity is used would not have made the onsite conversion of the DC power described by Robbins cost effective for the park, said Stoll. He pointed to a digital two-way meter the digits on which were counting backwards on a particularly sunny Saturday. Such is not always the case, of course, but the panels are expected to pay for about 40 percent of the electricity used annually in the park. “It helps a lot,” Stoll said of the system.
Salt Springs State Park is located north of Montrose off Silver Creek Road and SR 29. For more information about the park, log on to www.FriendsofSaltSpringsPark.org.
David Robins of SunPulse Solar (above, left) and Salt Springs State Park environmental educator Concetta Schirra display a typical solar panel used on rooftops or ground mounts.