Heights hardware store goes solar, Cost of rooftop installation slashed by rebate, tax breaks

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Some of the 39 new solar panels that adorn the roof of Shelter Island Ace Hardware.

Paid an electric bill lately? Like most costs these days, it was probably sky high despite your best efforts to curtail use.

That’s what Meredith Page and her brother David Gurney thought when they made the decision recently to go solar at Shelter Island Ace Hardware in the Heights.

Although there are a number of residential solar installations on the Island, theirs is only the second commercial operation that has gone that route. North Ferry installed a solar power system in October 2009.

“I can’t tell you the satisfaction of tapping on the meter and seeing the numbers go the other way,” said North Ferry’s Bridg Hunt, explaining the cuts he sees in power costs since going solar. “We’re really happy with it,” he said. “You never look back.”

Similarly, Ms. Page said she and Mr. Gurney were “very excited” about their decision to go solar.

It started for them several months ago when Tom Connolly of SunNation, an Oakdale-based solar company, walked into the store, offering to prepare a free quote. He looked at the LIPA bills Ms. Page and Mr. Gurney were paying. He found that electricity was costing them between $600 and $900 a month, Ms. Page said. She and Mr. Gurney also sought another quote from another company before opting to go with SunNation.

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Co-owner Meredith Page did the math to determine a solar installation would pay for itself in two and a half years.

The store owners also opted to do just half the job this year. The price is about $60,000 but their out-of-pocket expense so far has been about $30,000, Ms. Page said, because a LIPA rebate of a little more than $20,000 and a tax break for going green are cutting the bottom line.

She anticipates that between the rebate, tax savings and cuts in energy costs, she and Mr. Gurney will recover their investment within two-and-a-half years. And if all goes as expected, the store owners plan to complete the project next year, she said.

“You have to think forward about it,” she said about the investment.

The store has been in business for at least 90 years, she said. She and Mr. Gurney are the third generation of their family to run the business. Mr. Gurney started working at the store at age 12, while his sister went off to college and envisioned a career running a ski shop in New Hampshire.

Times got tough and she and her husband opted to return to Shelter Island, where she went to work in the family business.

“It’s in my blood,” Ms. Page said. “We aren’t going to stop selling hardware tomorrow.”

The conversion, involving the installation of 39 panels, took four days — one day more than had been originally planned but rain delayed the workers, Ms. Page said. Mr. Gurney invested some sweat equity, using the store’s fork lift to bring solar panels up to the roof.

Workers were neat and efficient and the only disruption occurred for about an hour when electricians had to shut down power. That meant customers were unable to use their credit cards, she said.

With the solar panels in place, Ms. Page said she is pleased about a tracking system that enables SunNation to monitor the system for glitches and rapidly make any necessary adjustments.

In a related matter, the Town Board on Friday adopted a code amendment to streamline the permitting process for rooftop solar installations. LIPA and the planning commissions of Nassau and Suffolk are encouraging all Long Island municipalities to adopt the code changes to create a “Solar Energy System Fast Track Application” process. The amendment sets standards for rooftop solar installations and provides for minimal fees and a permit decision within 14 days.