Solar tours spread awareness of solar energy in community

Sustainable Voorhees chair invites those interested to see solar panels in action.

Sustainable Voorhees Chair Marianne Leone welcomed Voorhees residents to her home on  Oct. 2 as part of the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) 26th national solar tour.

People interested in solar energy were able to ask questions and learn about solar energy from other residents. Mayor Michael Mignogna, Sustainable Voorhees co-Chair Valerie Brown and an Allied Experts representative were in attendance to answer questions at Leone’s home.

She kicked off the tour by sharing how her family decided to use solar energy. While trees had previously surrounded Leone’s yard, a straight lined wind knocked them all down and one damaged her roof. That disaster encouraged her to replace the aging roof and invest in solar energy. Leone said that since she switched to solar energy, she has saved $120 a month in energy bills and has had no problems with the panels.

During the course of the tour, Leone also explained other financial benefits of solar energy, including a 26 percent federal tax credit. Solar owners can be paid for excess energy produced, though there is a limit on the amount of that energy.

New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program states on its website, “To be eligible for net metering, the generating capacity of a system cannot exceed the customer’s annual electric needs.”

“You can’t get more than 10 percent of what your house draws, because then you’d be considered a utility company,” Leone explained.

A booklet provided by ASES specifies that “the payback period is dependent on the system size, installation cost, financing payments, local weather and electricity rates,” and that “payback is often realized in under five years, taking full advantage of state and federal tax incentives.”

In addition to the financial benefits, solar panels also benefit the environment. Irene Heifetz, marketing executive at Geoscape Solar Solutions in Mount Laurel, explained that “dirty energy” is produced by burning coal, oil and fossil fuels, known pollutants that contribute to climate change by adding carbon to the atmosphere. Solar panels allow energy to be produced in a way that doesn’t contribute to climate change.

“Because [dirty energy] is not being used, we’re able to grow more trees,” Heifetz noted.  “Because it’s not happening, we’re taking x amount of carbon out of the atmosphere, and we’re taking x amount of exhaust off the road.”

Heifetz also said her company has lately been more focused on working with nonprofits and commercial properties to help make a larger impact. Leone said that in her neighborhood alone, “there were around 40 houses using solar energy, which was statistically above the national average.”

“There is a mindset in this area to adopt solar,” she added.

Mignogna confirmed her statement by announcing that in 2022, Voorhees plans to create a solar field across 16 acres at  Centennial Park that will provide power for 3,500 homes. He also said there are 528 buildings currently using solar energy, including both residential, nonprofit and commercial properties, and he expects that number to grow.