Solar panels heating it up at Nature's Way in Greensburg
After 35 years of providing natural products for healthy living, the owners of Nature's Way market are now working to decrease the store's carbon footprint for the health of the planet by being the first to install solar panels in Greensburg.
“Nature's Way is the only one that came in and applied for the permit for a solar installation,” said Les Harvey, building code official for Greensburg. “They are the first that we are aware of in the city.
“Solar power is in its infancy,” Harvey added. “It's not a cheap thing to do.”
But costs have been coming down in recent years, and the owner of Nature's Way, Kitty Tuscano, said she wanted to make sure people are aware of the steps involved to better weigh the option of solar power for home or business.
“We did a solar installation first at home in March,” Tuscano said. “The electric bill right now is zero with a $200 credit.”
“It's a better investment than leaving money in the bank,” said Kitty's husband Barry Tuscano, who is retired from his roofing company and takes care of all building issues.
“When we first put the system in at home, I spent hours watching that meter spin backwards,” he said about the 11.2 kilowatt system.
Once the solar panels are installed, the system must be inspected by the power company before a bi-directional, or net meter, is scheduled for installation that measures the flow from both sources of energy.
The 21 kilowatt photovoltaic system at the business consists of panels covering the entire south-facing rooftop and will take about $200 a month off the electric bill for the three-story building that has a huge single-floor plan of 3,000 square feet.
The first step is to improve energy efficiency is to request an audit, or e-audit, through West Penn Power, Barry Tuscano said.
“We spent about $30,000 in upgrades by doing every suggestion from the e-audit that included furnace system upgrades, additional air duct returns, and foam insulation in the upstairs,” Barry Tuscano said.
“You don't have to know anything about solar power, just call the contractor and sign the papers. Anytime you don't have to burn coal it's a good thing.”
The Tuscanos went to the Mother Earth alternative energy fair at Seven Springs Resort last September and talked to solar companies. They plan on going again this year.
They found their contractor, Real Earth Power of Duncansville, from talking to others using solar power.
“This system would have cost $200,000 three years ago, and this year the cost is under $100,000,” said Mike Stoltz, of Real Earth Power. “The payback will be eight years.”
There also is a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar power installs and a lottery for the state Sunshine Program, Stoltz said, and he hasn't yet heard of anyone being refused.
Germany is the number one country for solar use and that country's latitude is the same as Alaska, said Kerri Stoltz, wife of Mike Stoltz and owner of the company.
“There is plenty of sun in Pennsylvania,” she added, with a four to one ratio of people installing ground versus rooftop units. “Solar panels do work with up to one inch of snow on them.”
Statistics provided by Real Earth Power state that Nature's Way will decrease its carbon footprint over the life of the solar system by 475 tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to planting 2,375 trees or reducing driving by 950,000 auto miles.
“We'd like to spread the word and have people stop and see the system,” Barry Tuscano said. “Solar power is doable. But call first to make sure we are here if you want to talk to us.”
The permit process needed through West Penn Power for solar energy installation is easily accessed through the company's web site, www.firstenergycorp.com, and typing 'net meter' in the search box.
Of West Penn Power's more than 700,000 customers, company spokesman Todd Meyers said there are currently 329 net meters in use and 38 are commercial, 287 are residential and 4 are industrial.
Of the 38 commercial meters, 29 are solar with the remainder using wind power. The majority of the residential homes with net meters use solar power, with 26 using wind. One industrial customer uses wind power.
“Using alternative energy is a personal choice that people need to make for themselves,” Meyers said. “We will help facilitate that choice.”
“May, June and July is the time to build up credits, but even on a cloudy day solar power is generated,” Meyers said. “The total power generated on net metering equals four megawatts, enough roughly – depending on the season – that one megawatt powers 1,000 homes.”
Meyers did add that there will never be a totally zero electric bill because of the basic costs of transmission and access.
The Tuscanos are serious about environmental causes.
Nature's Way has been participating in the 1 Percent For The Planet campaign since 2005 and, to date, has contributed more than $20,000 by carving out 1 percent of net sales to go toward protecting the natural environment.
In 2006, Nature's Way was a finalist for the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Award in the business category.
This distinction was sponsored by Dominion and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.