The Modern Boy system was designed to produce 95 percent of the cabinetry shop’s electricity needs. Borzelleca tapped a Rural Energy for America Program grant to defray 25 percent of his rooftop system’s cost. A further 30 percent federal energy tax credit that’s available to anyone made it “an easy decision,” Borzelleca said. “This is roughly a $40,000 system that I got for about half that.”
In addition to their work in Virginia, Sigora operates an office in Haiti. Sigora Haiti started with the dream of electrifying a clinic. Today, their vision has grown into a full-scale green utility project with an initial 10-year plan of providing electricity to 2 million people by 2025.
“I have been in the solar industry for over 30 years since the early 1980s. The 3 kW system in my house saved me around $600/yr and I was able to install this on my own. When people ask me about the panels, it’s mostly curious questions:How much do they cost to install? How does it work? Are there batteries? I tell them that solar thermal and solar electric have been around for decades. It behoves humanity to live off of incoming energy as opposed to reserves. My main reason for going solar was so I can power my electric car from my house.My Tesla X is coming in late September. I also installed a 68 kW system to power the local ice skating arena that I co-own. It has around 5,000 square feet of PV panels.”
Roger Voisinet, age 67, lives in a two century old historical home near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville where he had also coached the ice hockey team for fifteen years. Voisinet is also co-chairman of TEDxCharlottesville and in the hall of fame for RE/MAX International, the world’s largest real estate company.
Brian George, age 32, is a pilot by trade and a father of two with his wife, Brooke, living in Alexandria, Virginia. The George family originally moved from Texas. They are enthusiastic about the outdoors and spreading the word about solar energy and electric cars.
A second-hand retailer may seem an unlikely place for a high-tech project, but owner Rob Giroux says the renewable energy source makes sense for his business’ philosophy.
“For us as a thrift store, everything we sell is recycled or used,” he said. “And now we’re recycling energy.”
Giroux has had a fascination with solar power since the eighth grade, when he made a solar water-heating science project. But he decided to pursue solar panels for his business after he noticed the technology’s prices had dropped. At the same time, he was looking for ways to lower expenses for the massive 26,000-square-foot building with 30-foot ceilings. The store racked up $32,000 in Dominion Power bills last year; back in 2005, Giroux remembers paying about half that.
Solar power systems were once considered niche products. But as the industry has advanced, the technology has become more affordable. System prices have dropped by about two-thirds since 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group. Today more homeowners and businesses are choosing solar power systems. In 2015, $28 million was spent on installations throughout Virginia, according to SEIA, increasing the solar capacity 86 percent. The state has about 22 megawatts of solar installations.
In January, prior to going solar, Giroux replaced the entire store’s lighting – between 600 and 700 bulbs – with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The energy-efficient lights cut his electric bill about 30 percent, he said. Then, this month Convert Solar, a Virginia Beach-based company, constructed the rooftop solar panel system. The equipment and labor came to about $223,000.
A federal tax credit shaves 30 percent off that. Giroux got a low-interest loan to finance the project, with an estimated payback in five years. His payments, he said, will be slightly higher than what he was spending on his regular electric bills. After the initial costs, he expects his annual spending to fall below $5,000.
“People just have these preconceived notions that it doesn’t make (financial) sense,” Giroux said.
The Villas at Rocketts Landing are designed to be energy efficient and solar powered, but at an affordable price. When you walk into one of these homes, you won’t necessarily see the difference in the walls or ducts, but the developer says you’ll see it in the power bill. The Villas at Rocketts Landing were designed by Epstein’s Health-E-Community Enterprises, in collaboration with Earthcraft Virginia and Renewable Engineered Systems, to be energy efficient from the ground up.
“All of our air handlers are in the air conditioned part of the house and that’s important because it works better, instead of it being up in the attic or down in the crawl,” Epstein explained.
And the homes are designed to be cost efficient as well. He added, showing us the frame of an unfinished house, “What we’re doing is value engineering the lumber that we’re using. We’re saving lumber, saving forestry.”
Each house in the community will be powered by its own set of solar panels, which will generate more energy than the house needs. The excess energy will be sold to Virginia Dominion Power.
“The solar produces $600 to $700 a year that offsets your utility bill,” said Epstein. And Epstein says he guarantees that a home’s power bills will be about 80% lower than a comparable home’s, with averaged bills as low as a dollar a day in their smallest model, 1500 square feet.
“$155 would be the normal utility bill on a 1800 square foot home,” explained Epstein. “We’re saying that bill is going to be $45.”
Health-E-Community Enterprises plans to build 45 homes in the Villas at Rocketts Landing, at the corner of Orleans and Williamsburg roads. The subdivision is near the newly developed Rocketts Landing and a subdivision Epstein also developed called Fulton. The solar power adds $22,000 to the cost of each home. But Epstein says the homes are affordably priced, ranging from $222,000 to $249,000. The models all have three bedrooms, and two to two and a half baths.