Snow Hill Farm First In County With Solar Panels

SNOW HILL — The future is looking bright for solar energy in Worcester County.

Last Friday, Paradise Energy Solutions partnered with local land owner James Kurtz to host an energy open house at Kurtz’s Snow Hill farm, which has the first commercial sized solar installation in the county.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to receive hands-on experience,” said Tim Beiler, who founded Paradise with his brother Jason in 2009 and works as the branch manager for the company’s Gap, Pa. office.  

Beiler added that the open house was there to educate the public on what a switch to solar energy could mean both economically and environmentally.

While the initial cost for a system was relatively high, a presentation given during the open house cited a number of savings and incentives that would balance the cost, and in the long-run, would end up paying for itself. For example, Paradise explained that a standard 100 kw agricultural system would cost about $490,000 to install. But because of the interest and desirability of alternative energy currently, prospective owners can expect a large portion of the start-up cost to be mitigated by state and federal grants.

The Maryland Clean Energy Grant itself will fund about 10 percent of a solar project, either residential or commercial. Coupled with federal grants, Paradise estimated that the $490,000 installation cost for the sample system could drop down to about $273,000 after rebates.

From that cost, the predictions for yearly savings were optimistic. For that 100 kw system, Paradise expected approximately $17,000 a year in energy savings with an additional $35,000 in savings from Solar Renewable Energy Credits. At that rate of return, the system should pay itself off in 5.27 years, according to the presentation.

“We’ve seen less than five years in some cases,” said Marty Clemmer, a sales associate with Paradise.

Clemmer also mentioned that there’s 100 percent tax depreciation on solar systems if installation begins before Dec. 31 of this year.

While the network of grants and tax maneuvering would be difficult to navigate for most homeowners, Paradise offers to handle all of the paperwork, a deal that Kurtz took advantage of, calling the whole experience “stress free.”

Though most of the presentation focused on solar energy in general, potential customers were given reasons to choose Paradise as opposed to other providers.

All members of both the company’s sales team and its installation team have to go through a 60-hour solar design course. Additionally, the company offers a two-year performance guarantee. If a system it installs doesn’t produce as much energy as first estimated, Paradise will buy all of the electricity that wasn’t produced at the same rate the customer pays.

“This is our way of putting our money behind it,” said Beiler, who admitted that the guarantee was a bit of a gamble, since electricity generation with solar was entirely weather dependent.

Kurtz, at least, was impressed with the job that Beiler’s company had done for him.

“Paradise Energy did great,” he said.

Kurtz expressed pride in his system, which he estimated produces about 78k kw a year, and is easily able to power the chicken house that it is attached to. In fact, Kurtz believes the system could handle a second chicken house and hopes to eventually have most if not all of his property powered by solar.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said of the system. “It’s going to do everything I need it to.”

When asked what if there was anything he would like to see improved in the process, Kurtz remarked that he would like more cooperation at the state level.

He seemed much happier about the way local government had helped facilitate the installation process, which he said only took about three weeks from groundbreaking to completion.

Kurtz made special mention of County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, crediting him with doing a lot of the work to get the ball rolling on permitting and zoning issues.

Shockley, who attended the open house, said that he left the event impressed but with a lot of questions about the future of solar energy.

“I was a little taken back by the cost,” said Shockley.

Shockley, a farmer himself, acknowledged that the installation price would be cut significantly through grants, but questioned just how stable those grants would be in the next few years.

“It has to be affordable without the grants,” said Shockley, who compared the grant network to a line of dominos. “If one falls down, they all fall.”

According to Shockley, the only way to make solar systems affordable on their own is mass production.

Currently, many of the panels are manufactured overseas and then imported to the United States.

Shockley wondered why, and expressed the hope that the US will eventually be able to produce the panels domestically, lowering costs to a point where grants are no longer needed.

For the time being, however, Shockley admitted that he was impressed enough with Paradise’s presentation to have them come to his own property for a site assessment. While he worries about the stability of grants, they are in place now and ready to be taken advantage of.