Niagara Gazette

August 26, 2013

Looking to the sky to help lower electric bills

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When Earl Smeal took a look at his electricity bills last summer, he knew he needed to make some changes.

With air conditioners running at full blast and a pool filter providing a constant hum, not to mention computers and televisions inside his Cayuga Island home, his family’s bill soared under the stress of the extremely hot 2012 summer.

So he did a little research, made a few phone calls and ended up leasing 27 solar panels. They’re on his roof now, soaking up the rays nature provides and harnessing them for home use.

It’s making a difference, he said.

“My house has consumed about 2,600 kilowatt-hours in the last two months,” he said. “But we’ve been billed for only about 300 of those.”

Forget the nuts and bolts of kilowatts and power for a second. Essentially what Smeal’s house is doing this summer is creating its own energy instead of forcing him to buy everything from National Grid. 

It’s a process many are referring to as “going off the grid,” a practice increasing in popularity both for those with “green” initiative and with those simply looking to save a few pennies.

But solar panels are expensive and electricity is typically less expensive to purchase than other utilities like natural gas or oil, right? Smeal said he didn’t spend as much as it would first appear installing the panels because he did his research before hand. It turns out, he said, there are grants available to homeowners who want to go green.

Bottom line, he said, is he’s responsible for a little more than $5,000 of the cost of the panels, which come at a true cost of about $20,000 for his set up. The New York State Energy Research and Development Agency – or NYSERDA – made it extremely affordable through several incentives he was able to take advantage of in making his decision.

It will eventually pay off, he said, in about five years of energy bill savings. For 20 years after, the life of his lease, the cost savings will go straight to his pocket book.

“When I saw financially, with the incentives, that this was viable, I wanted to be an example,” Smeal said. “We hear a lot about conserving energy, but it’s mostly lip service. I just wanted to do my part in this battle.”

Smeal is at an advantage most regular people don’t enjoy. He’s the energy manager and capital projects manager at the city school district by day, which puts him in a prime position to know where to look for monetary opportunities.

He acknowledges this and understands how intimidating it may seem to someone without an electrical background to attempt to figure out savings. So he broke it down in explanation to show just how much is saved.

It turns out he was charged $0.18 per kilowatt-hour on his June 2013 bill, roughly the cost to deliver 1,000 watts in one hour’s time. Though usage depends on the individual, since he’s installed the solar panels and turned them on in the middle of May this year, Smeal has created approximately 2,400 kilowatt-hours of energy. So by rough math, he’s saved about $416 in three months.

“I would recommend this,” he said, adding it requires careful consideration and a conversation with an accountant to make sure the incentives work out.

“The bills are hard to understand,” he said. “I think it can be very intimidating for the average person. But that’s why I wanted to do this.”




Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.