Solar business spikes, but contractors bemoan delays

//May 27, 2009

Solar business spikes, but contractors bemoan delays

//May 27, 2009

Solar installers say a new state incentive program is
heating up business, but only after a painful delay.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar Program will cover up to 35
percent of the cost of new solar electric and hot-water units for homes and
small businesses. Gov. Ed Rendell signed the legislation creating the program
in July 2008, but it did not start until May 18.

Most people decided to wait for the Sunshine program to
begin before installing new solar equipment so they could be eligible for the
state aid, businesspeople said.

“Things slowed down last summer and slowed to a trickle, to
almost nothing,” said Bonnie Nolt, business manager at SunLion Energy Systems in Lancaster County. But it’s different now, she

“The phones are going nuts and the e-mails are going nuts,”
Nolt said.

The reasons for the delay are unclear. The state Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP), which runs the Sunshine program, did not respond
to a request for comment.

The delay forced Delaware County-based Open Sky Energy to
lay off an office worker and prevented the company from giving business to its
subcontractors, Chief Operating Officer Michael Matotek said. Open Sky Energy
is focused on the area within a one-hour radius of its Delaware County
headquarters but can go farther, Matotek said.

Maryland-based Greenspring Energy navigated the delay by arranging
contracts with customers that would kick in only after the program got under
way, President Paul Wittemann said. Greenspring does business in Central Pennsylvania.

Solar installations are not cheap, but the state’s rebate
program can be combined with federal tax incentives for savings as high as 45
percent, according to the DEP. At Greenspring, a typical electric installation
costs about $30,000, Witteman said. The payback period depends on electric
rates. But factoring in the incentives, Witteman said, it could take seven to
10 years. Costs will vary significantly depending on the size of the job, said
SunLion’s Nolt.

Overall, the rebate program will put Pennsylvania in a strong position in the
solar industry, Witteman said.

will be a top-five state on the East Coast for solar. I mean, it’s a major game-changer
for Pennsylvania
for solar,” he said.

Now that the program is finally under way, installers have
high hopes for the coming months.

Kevin Weaver is a science teacher during the school year and
installs solar hot-water systems during the summer from his home on the border
between Berks and Lancaster
counties. He said he’s hoping for a good haul this year.

“Once people hear that there’s going to be a big discount,
they’re going to want to get it,” he said.

York County-based Ascom Inc. is an electrical contractor and
installer of communication lines, but the company also offers solar

“Right now it’s a growing part of our business, and we’d
like it to be a bigger part of our business,” said Vice President Jeff Georg.