Niagara Gazette

August 28, 2013

Area homeowners say their solar panels pay for themselves in just a few years

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara.gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — First, Ken Horvath tried burning corn kernels to heat his home. Then, he tried burning cherry pits.

The cherry pits were a challenge because after hauling in several truckloads from a grower in Westfield, Horvath had to rake them out on the driveway of his Town of Lockport ranch home so each pit could dry in the sun.  

It is not easy being green. But Horvath is determined to become “fossil fuel-free.”

That’s why he was so passionate about the solar panels. He’s expecting to have his third set installed soon by Solar Liberty, an Amherst solar company that has such diverse customers as the Riviera Theatre and Niagara University.

Horvath, who had considered windmills but thought they were a bit too complicated, says his solar system “just lays up on the roof” and makes electricity.

The former engineer, who is also growing a praire preserve in his back yard, just wants to do the right thing for the planet. He gets agitated when people talk about the “payback.”  He wonders aloud why they don’t care if their new couch has a “payback.”

Horvath is doing it for the planet. He bought his 25 acres in Lockport so he could “save it for Mother Nature.”

But, with the new federal incentives and other grants available, the cost of buying solar has been reduced lately by nearly two-thirds, according to solar distributors. 

“There is a $5,000 tax credit from New York state on the system cost,” said Michael Ryszka of Astrum Solar, “and there is a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government.”  

In addition, Ryszka said, with an average installation that costs about $30,000, the state would provide a grant for nearly one-third of the cost.

With all those grants and credits, the solar panels also pay for themselves much quicker, according to Bill Wagner of Pendleton. 

Wagner, who also uses geothermal heating and an “on demand” hot water system, contracted with Solar Liberty to install his panels two months ago. His electric bill dropped from $150 last winter to $18 this past month. “That was just a service charge to keep the account open because we actually had a negative balance on the account. They actually owed us 32 kilowatts,” he said.

“Everything I’m doing is going to save us money,” he said of himself, his wife and two children.  

Saving money was also on the mind of William Conrad, a retired Tonawanda man who installed solar panels several months ago instead of investing the cost in the bank.

“The cash outlay was about $24,000,” said Conrad, who monitors his system online. “If I put $24,000 in the bank last year, what would I be getting this year? You’d probably get a dollar or two but that’s about it.” 

And while some customers report zero or negative electric bills, Conrad’s electric bill has decreased from about $260 to $50. It would be even cheaper if this summer had been sunnier, he noted. 

Conrad said he invested in the panels for his Green Acres ranch home to keep his bills low throughout his retirement years. 

“It’s from an economical standpoint rather than a green standpoint, but green is great too,” he said. “And if more industries got on board, that would really be a good thing.”

Dr. Teresa Ruth has been so impressed by the solar panels installed in her home that she hopes to have them installed at her business, the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital on Grand Island. 

She had looked into getting the panels for her home years ago, but found that with all the federal and state incentives now available, the systems cost about two-thirds less. 

Since she had her 26 panels installed in December, “every month since March I’ve had net zero power usage,” she said. She’s already talked with Astrum’s Ryszka about placing a system on the roof of her animal hospital.

He told her the government is currently creating more incentives for businesses and that he planned to let her know the best time for the installation in the near future. 

“I use a lot more electricity here,” she said during a phone interview from her clinic, noting that between X-rays and surgical monitors and other digital office machines, her clinic uses a lot of current. “It would definitely be a big benefit, because my power bill is enormous.”