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Can Solar Energy Become a Sustainable Business in Connecticut?

Can Solar Energy Become a Sustainable Business in Connecticut?

There’s no doubt that a move towards green building, solar energy and less reliance on regional power grids is a good thing for both the environment and the consumer, but is it financially sustainable?

David DeMaio, president of the Pat Munger Construction Company in Branford asked this question to Senator Edward Meyer who recently toured the construction facility, which is the in the process of building a state-funded, $550,000 solar thermal hot water heating system for Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. A percentage, $323,000 of the project, is funded through a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which will provide up to 65 percent of the hospital’s hot water needs.

Talking about the production of solar panels and solar thermal products DeMaio asked, “Can it be done competitively on our shores? History has proved that’s impossible to for some business to do business.”

The conversation quickly switched the Obama-backed solar energy company Solyndra, which has recently closed its doors after its production became financially unviable.

Jeffrey Lendroth, Sustainable Energy Consultant for Munger spoke up during the tour noting, “If you look at what Connecticut’s doing, it’s a grassroots effort.”

Lendroth and the group were joined on the tour by Ben Kaplan, CFO of SolarUS Inc., a Branford-based company selling Solar Thermal Collectors and Systems, which are being used for the solar thermal panels to be installed on Gaylord Hospital; Thomas Massaro, Owner and Principal of Innovative Engineering Services of East Haven, which provides engineering and design services for solar photovoltaic systems and solar thermal systems, and Gus Kellogg, Principal Partner, CEO GreenLeaf Biofuels, Inc., founder of a Biodiesel manufacturing and processing facility at New Haven Terminal who hopes to work with Munger for a solar thermal system.

All members present at last week’s tour are hopeful that the local solar energy business can grow, in part thanks to the comprehensive energy reform bill (SB 1243) that the legislature passed 36-0 in the Senate and 139-8 in the House.

Lawrence B. Cook, Press Aide for the Senate Democrats explained, “[The] new law [signed by the Governor on July 1] seeks to lower Connecticut’s electric rates and reduce pollution through a variety of means, including getting more homes and businesses into the type of renewable, 'clean' energy that Munger works to install. There are energy credits for wind, solar, hydro and fuel cells, and a goal to get a minimum 30 megawatts of residential solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2022 (in a decade) with financial incentives for homeowners.”

This incentive is what these solar energy businessmen are hoping will become more attractive as the Clean Energy Efficiency Board of the DEEP works to hammer out the details of the new bill.

Currently the payback for business owners who invest in solar technology is more than 12 years; the new bill hopes to bring that number as low as five years if possible. Of the current payback, DeMaio said, “It’s not a good business model."

Meyer responded, "We’re really listening for the first time in a long time.”

Munger Construction is currently a provider of energy efficient solutions (solar PV and geothermal and solar thermal hot water systems) and has completed solar installations at North Haven Autobody, Hubbell Electric Water Heater in Stratford,  on North Branford, and  and , both in Branford.

Munger works with local businesses like Massaro’s and Kaplan’s with the hope that they can boost the local economy and create more local jobs through new solar energy projects.

“You’re still going to need boots up on the roof to put this stuff up,” said DeMaio. “The business that is available,” he continued, motioning to Massaro and Kaplan, “is exponential in nature.”

Through the new bill and the synergy of the companies, the hope is have a booming solar energy business here in Connecticut, the state that has the highest energy costs in the country–second only to Hawaii. Massaro who has projects going in New Jersey and Massachusetts–two states with thriving solar energy economies–said he hopes he can keep business more local to his East Haven headquarters.

Local production said Lendroth, “gives business owners and homeowners an alternative to the high cost of energy.”

“We are trying to be competitive in Connecticut to offset the electric bill. If you can invest in a solar energy array that you can have paid off in seven to eight years, you can reap the benefits for 25 to 30 years,” commented Lendroth.

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