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Solar Energy & Installations

As Energy Costs Rise, Businesses Begin Using Alternative Energy

In today’s unstable economy, and as energy costs rise, businesses, especially small businesses, are looking into viable alternative cost-cutting solutions. Five years ago the State of New Jersey began the Clean Energy Program, which provides rebates to companies that install alternative renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and biopower. This rebate equates to a savings of up to about 60 percent and is paid after the State inspects the installation and approves it.

This incentive to install renewable energy systems is a major step to having companies adopt a program that would otherwise be too expensive to consider. The Federal Government also steps in by offering an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to corporations when they files taxes. “The tax credit is about 30 percent of the net cost,” or after the state rebate, said Eric Smith, an engineer for Ecostream, a solar panel integrator company based in California that integrates buildings or fields with solar energy systems.

Joe Tabatchnick, owner of Joelin Foods in Kenilworth, N.J., is one business in the state that has begun thinking about alternative energy. Currently he is having a solar panel system installed by electrical contractor S. Swenson and Son, Inc. atop of his 16,000 sq. ft. building that houses his refrigerated and frozen foods. Environmentally speaking, solar panels help reduce strain on the grid, the existing electric transmission and distribution system. S. Swenson and Son (for more information, contact S. Swenson and Son at (908) 276-9000, or go online at swensonandsons.com) was hired out by Ecostream to install the panels, which are a 72.5 kw d/c system, just over 200 panels, Mr. Tabatchnick said. Carl Swenson, owner of the electric contracting company, said his company has installed solar and wind systems for companies as businesses want to move away from reliance on foreign supplies and save money.

About three or four years ago Mr. Tabatchnick started researching ways to save money. “I heard there was a government rebate program,” he said. I thought it was a great idea.”

“I’m trying to do whatever I can to save money. The economy is not the best right now,” he said. “I was told I would save 33 percent in my electric cost by using the solar panels.” That equates to about $3,300 per month, or about $39,000, per year in savings, not including the money he can earn selling back unused electricity, for the businessman.

The savings is dependent on the amount of energy used and the size of the system installed. Mr. Smith said companies can save anywhere from 10 to 100 percent by using solar energy, which only produces electricity during bright sunlight.

When he first moved into the building on Michigan Avenue in 2004, Mr. Tabatchnick was paying about $5,000 to $6,000 per month in electric. Last month he paid just over $10,000. “It’s gone up considerably,” he said. In the four-year period he said he added one freezer, which he estimated at an additional $1,500 a month in electric costs.

On top of the rebates and tax credits, the N.J. business owner can sell the surplus energy produced by the solar panel system to another company, a utility company broker or an aggregator in a unit termed Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC). “It’s a traded economy, like a stock,” explains Mr. Smith. “For every certificate of energy you produce you get a credit. He said it is about $430 to $450 per credit in New Jersey. “New Jersey has the best,” he said of its rates. Though the rates do fluctuate as the market changes, said Doyal Siddell, a spokesperson for The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program. According to the Clean Energy Program’s Web site, the month of July hit at high of $525 and a low of $175.

On average a company will generate 90 SRECs per year, Mr. Smith said, based on the production of the system. “It looks at how much energy is used and how much the solar system in producing. Every 1,000 KWh (1MWh) is one SREC,” he said.

Ecostream sells solar panels by the watt. Each panel, measuring about 2 ½ feet by 5 feet, is about 160 to 170 watts and costs $4.50 to $5 per watt. So, each panel costs about $700 to $800, plus the cost of the inverter, which converts direct current (d/c) from the solar panel and turns it into alternating current (a/c) that is present in the grid, the wiring, and other materials that make the system function.

For Mr. Tabatchnick, the solar panels are just the first step. He is also looking into other alternative methods to reduce his energy costs. “If I can get it down to zero, I’ll have a lower operating cost and can compete with my competitors and can keep my prices down,” he said.

Benefits of Solar Greenhouse Barges Constructed by Swenson/WWC Corp.

1. Federal Mandate

  • Addresses government’s desire to develop and install alternative renewable sources of energy.
  • Each barge has sustainable energy production, and is able to generate sufficient electricity to operate the greenhouse on a year-around basis, without drawing electricity from existing grid.

2. Environmental

  • Barge is a totally green facility.
  • Leaves no carbon footprint.
  • Crops grown without use of insecticides
  • No fertilizers or other chemicals released into the atmosphere.
  • Reduces/eliminates pollution from transporting crops, as crops are produced close to final retail market.

3. Conservation of vital resources

  • No fossil fuels are used in greenhouse operation.
  • Less fossil fuels are required to transport crops to market.
  • Requires minimal water from existing supply, far less than traditional agriculture, as rainwater is collected and stored in cisterns for use as required.

4. Economic and Social

  • Creates full time employment from both the construction and continuous operation of the solar greenhouse barges.
  • Each barge would be owned and operated by local green market farmers.
  • Revitalizes waterfront communities.
  • Helps reduce urban traffic.
  • Creates an educational facility that school groups and the public can visit to learn about hydroponics and other confined-space farming systems.

5. Practical to build and operate

  • Can be constructed quickly, and relatively inexpensively, utilizing standard building materials and proven technologies.
  • Can be easily transported, (i.e., “floated”) to its desired urban waterfront location where it could be permanently parked.
  • Requires no special orientation relative to the sun. Can be parked facing any direction.
  • With minimal maintenance, each greenhouse will have a lifespan lasting decades.
  • Each greenhouse barge will pay for itself in two to three years.
  • Is able to satisfy need for growing a variety of fresh, high quality produce (vegetables, herbs and flowering plants) in a cost-effective manner. Crops can be grown rapidly, on a year-around basis.