Solar panels become more popular in Sewickley Valley, surrounding region

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Aside from reducing electricity costs, the Rev. Barry Lewis of Aleppo found out there are incentives for installing solar panels.

About three years ago, Lewis and his wife, Andrea, were researching ways to save electricity.

“We are ecologically conscious, and we were looking at windmills,” said Lewis, 72, a retired Sewickley United Methodist pastor.

But then, Andrea Lewis found out about all the cost benefits of solar panels while attending the Mother Earth Festival at Seven Springs.

The Lewises received $7,500 as part of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar Rebate Program, which pays for 35 percent of the installation cost. That program is scheduled to end Dec. 31.

They received a federal Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit for 30 percent of the installation of 34 panels. Total project cost was $38,000, and Lewis said he got about half of that back. Included in that cost was about $1,500 to take down a pine tree that would have blocked much of the light.

In addition, Duquesne Light buys any excess electricity produced but not used by the couple, Lewis said.

Another incentive was the promise by a salesman at Astrum Solar in Youngstown, Ohio, that the project would pay for itself in six to eight years because of the money they would save in electricity bills.

Lewis said his electricity bill is half of what he previously paid — more on rainy days and when the snow on the roof blocks the light in the winter.

Lewis gets a monthly email from the company letting him know how much energy the solar panels have produced.

Lewis isn't the only one taking advantage of the benefits of solar panels.

Most communities within the Sewickley Valley have at least one or two homes featuring solar panels, officials said.

Edgeworth Borough Manager Marty McDaniel said he doesn't know of any homes with solar panels in the community. He said the borough is in the process of writing regulations for the use of solar panels in Edgeworth.

Joe and Judy McGurk of Leetsdale have a solar panel on their garden shed, installed by Judy's son, Brian Seklecki, about a year ago.

Judy McGurk said the panel allowed them to have a light inside and outside the shed so they could avoid running an electric line from the house to the shed. The entire project cost about $800, and Joe McGurk said the outside light most of the time shines all night. The system includes a battery backup.

Seklecki, who has solar panels on his Polish Hill home, said he purchased the panel from Underwood Solar which at the time was located in Pittsburgh's Manchester neighborhood.

Joe Morinville, president of Energy Independent Solutions in McKees Rocks, said he has seen a significant increase in the installation of solar panels in the Pittsburgh area within the past few years.

He has installed several in the Sewickley area and has several more under contract.

Since 2008, Morinville said his company has installed more than 120 home, farm and business systems in the Pittsburgh and surrounding areas and now installs about two systems per week and about 50 per year. It usually takes two to three days to install a home system.

He said solar panels are getting so popular that PennFuture, a local environmental group based in Pittsburgh, sponsors an annual solar panel tour in and around Pittsburgh. Held last Saturday, it featured more than 20 homes, including one on High Street in Leet Township.

Aside from the “growing greener trend,” Morinville said he believes solar panels have become especially popular this year because of a decrease in cost: About $25,0000 to $35,000 depending on the difficulty and size of the job; and because the state incentive rebate program is ending soon.

Generally, people buy solar panels because they are a good investment — many of his customers have no electricity bill at all — and have a long warranty and life expectancy, he said.

And, he said, with exception of the Falk home — located in a historic district in Sewickley — Morinville said he has had almost no problems with neighbors objecting to other neighbors who install solar panels.

“In fact, most of the time, it's the exact opposite. You put up one system and you get contacts for five more in the surrounding area,” he said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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