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Solar Expert: 'With Solar, You're the Utility'

Customers frustrated by the Long Island Power Authority in the wake of Irene learn about solar as an alternative during the next big storm.

Six days after Tropical Storm Irene swept across Long Island, thousands of residents are still without electricity. In the interim, the Long Island Power Authority has taken a lot of heat for its handling of the storm cleanup and communication with the public, which brings up the question: Is there an alternative?

The Minnick family has been in the solar energy business for over 30 years. Gary Minnick owns Go Solar in Aquebogue, while his nephew Jamie Minnick owns Eastern Energy Systems (e2sys) in Mattituck. Both companies specialize in providing cost-effective renewable energy services to businesses and private residences, and while they may be family, they are also competitors.

Jamie and Gary are hopeful that in the wake of the power outages caused by Irene, more residents will decide to choose solar.

“You can either have solar as your power company on your roof or you can pay a power company. With solar, you’re the utility company,” said Jamie.

Both Minnick’s solar panels are built to withstand hurricane force winds, and Irene put them to the test. According to both Gary and Jamie, they passed with flying colors.

“We had our concerns, but the storm came and went, and we didn’t have one issue with our system. Everything worked perfectly and it was a testimonial for us,” Jamie said of his panels.

As lights at thousands of area residences went out, homes with e2sys and Go Solar solar panels and battery backups stayed lighted.

“Our system is perfect for the kind of thing we saw with Irene. We have designed a system that provides energy 24 hours-a-day,” Jamie explained.

Customers have the option of installing a backup battery system, which is recharged by sunlight once the storm clears. But the backup system is expensive. Due to the economic downturn of the past few years, it has been more difficult for customers to get bank loans for solar energy, which has hurt the industry.

“I believe in not being beholden to the utilities. I would love to keep doing more of this and make people independent, but the government isn’t supporting solar,” explained Gary.

As a result, many solar customers choose to forgo the backup and install the panels only. 

Go Solar, which owns two large portable solar systems, used one system to power Chris Mohr Landscaping Company after the business lost power. The solar panels and battery backup system was able to run lights, computers, WiFi, and other items the landscaping business needed to run smoothly while the power was out.

In the wake of the storm, both e2sys and Go Solar have been inundated with calls from LIPA customers seeking an alternative.

“People are saying they don’t want to go through this again. They want to do something about it,” said Jamie. “I think it’s more of a comfort thing and a security thing because you never know what’s going to happen with our electric grid. Its peace of mind.”

indy September 03, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Would go solar in a second!....... but the upfront costs, even with the rebates and credits, are quite preventative. Anyone feel like subsidizing my house?!
Benja Schwartz September 03, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Covering a roof with solar panels is expensive. Providing the equivalent of a grid is impossible. Conservation is the first step. Passive Solar and Solar Thermal are more efficient than Solar Electric. I have a very small solar electric system. My system retails for less than $200, and that is without rebates! I was able to power my modem and router and stay online after Irene during the 36 hours the grid was down in Fleets Neck Cutchogue. Southold is not doing much to help. The Town of Brookhaven GREEN HOMES PROGRAM pays 100% of upfront costs and requires only 30% to be repaid! see http://www.brookhaven.org/Departments/PlanningEnvironment/EnergySustainability.aspx

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