As the hot months of summer approach, soaring fossil-fuel prices and record-high electric bills have more and more Delmarva residents seriously thinking about alternative energy. And, in one Millsboro neighborhood, some residents have been doing more than thinking.
Winding Creek Village neighbors Robert Taney, Donald McElwee and Charles Geidel have each investigated and installed solar energy systems in the past 13 months and all have one sentiment in common: “I wish I’d done it sooner.”
Taney, who retired to the Millsboro area from Pennsylvania, was the first to install a photovoltaic system for his 3,000-square-foot home.
“We’ve always been green people,” he said, noting he and his wife have recycled for decades and a greenhouse they added to their home made them realize the potential for solar energy. With no heat, the greenhouse stayed warm all winter. “And the heat was free.”
Sitting in his enclosed porch, comfortably drinking ice tea while overlooking a snow-covered yard in January in Millsboro, he said the winter storms, record heat and government incentives in recent years led him to take action.
After reading about projects managed by the Harbeson-based, custom design-build alternative-energy company Flexera in the newspaper, he started a six-week process that moved his home into the future and large electric bills into the past.
Taney said he felt secure in moving ahead after Flexera’s engineering and financial staffs provided a free site evaluation, home energy audit and cost and revenue projections. After approving the project, he said, the company handled all aspects of the job, from custom design to getting permits, professional installation, obtaining energy grants, doing required paperwork for energy tax credits and brokering sales of revenue-producing Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) for the Taneys on the Chicago Trade Market.
“They showed me how we could do it — then did it,” said Taney. “It was a seamless process.”
Within a month, his system was installed and generating not only energy savings but SRECs. The piece de resistance came one cold but sunny day when Taney witnessed his electric meter spinning backwards for the first time. That meant he was selling electricity back to the power grid and generating income-earning SRECs. He couldn’t wait to show his neighbors.
To date, after one full year installed, his initial 78-panel, 4,800-watt system, plus a six-panel system he added later to take care of an addition to his 3,000-square-foot home, has generated more than $4,300 in SREC revenue, in addition to drastically reducing his power bills. He estimates that, between federal and state grants, tax incentives and future SREC sales, his home’s solar system will have paid for itself in four years, about half Flexera’s initial estimates.
“My only regret is I didn’t do both systems at the same time,” Taney said. “But I wanted to see the results first.”
Within six months of Taney’s solar installation, neighbor Donald McElwee witnessed the energy-saving results and went to Flexera and installed a 29-panel system for his 2,40-square-foot home. To date, his system has generated more than $2,000 in SREC revenue.
“My wife asked why I was doing this, but now she understands,” said McElwee. “It’s a great return on investment. You can’t make that kind of money in the markets.”
McElwee’s system, even with the colder-than-normal temperatures and cloudy days the Delmarva Peninsula received this winter, will take 4 to 4.5 years to pay for itself, he estimated. “And that’s with us not conserving so much. We like being comfortable.”
This past January, after seeing the results of both the Taney and McElwee systems running for six months to a year, neighbor Charles Geidel took the plunge. His 2,300-square-foot home’s 27-panel system has generated more than $1,700 in SRECs so far. He estimates his $8,000 out-of-pocket expenses after grants and tax breaks will come back to him in about four to five years.
The best thing about his new system, said Geidel: “My highest electric bill is maybe $30 to $40, and some months it’s minus. With energy costs escalating and SREC money coming in, this is another source of income!”