Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Solar:Another Way to Help Save the Adirondacks?

If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.

Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.”

More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.

“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”

Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.

A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.

“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.

But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”

Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”

According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.

Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”

Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.

“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.

Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”

Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.

“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”

According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.

“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”

The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.

“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.

“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”

For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.

“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”

Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.

“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”

Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.





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