Solar push for business, nonprofits in McCandless

TribLive
January 5, 2023

Big tax breaks await businesses and nonprofits in McCandless that go solar, and they can get help with the process through nonprofit Pennsylvania Solar Center.

An online informational webinar is scheduled for Jan. 13, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Those interested can register via the www.townofmccandless.org.

The McCandless Township’s Environmental Advisory Committee is partnering with Pennsylvania Solar Center through its community program G.E.T. Solar, or Galvanizing our Energy Transition.

McCandless is one of four G.E.T. Solar Communities in Pennsylvania, with the others being Carnegie, Indiana and Wilkinsburg, according to the solar center.

Sharon Grace Pillar, founder and director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center, said it works with community leaders to help guide the process for business, nonprofits, schools and other institutions that want to go solar.

“We help make a complicated process simple to understand by providing a high level solar assessment and then putting their project out to bid to developers. At that point we help them understand the bids, the financing options and the projected savings so that they can make a decision to go solar – or not,” she said.

Going solar can produce enormous savings on electric bills as the price of electricity has skyrocketed over the past few years, Pillar said.

Financial benefits include federal tax credits, grant programs and solar renewable credits, according to Tony Kerzmann, a member of the McCandless EAC.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides financial incentives and tax breaks to tax-exempt groups to help pay for conversion to solar power. Tax credits are available to for-profit entities, said Kerzmann, an engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Tax credits to tax-exempt organizations could pay for up to 30 percent of the cost of a solar array. For-profit businesses can receive tax credits worth 30 percent of the cost and with an accelerated depreciation bonus the tax break could be more than 50 percent of costs according to Kerzmann.

With solar, businesses and organizations also can lock-in their electricity rates for the long-term.

One notable participant is the Community College of Allegheny County North Campus. The CCAC North Campus went solar in 2022, which is expected to save the school $750,000 in energy costs over the next 28 years.

The 543-kilowatt solar installation will produce enough electricity to power 30 percent to 40 percent of the electrical needs of CCAC’s North Campus. BAI Group, LLC, of State College installed the solar array and assisted in part by the Pennsylvania Solar Center through the G.E.T. Solar program.

CCAC is dedicated to fostering sustainability and social responsibility and is committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, said Carlo Vazquez, CCAC vice president for facilities management.

”The North Campus solar roof was a major milestone in this initiative and has set a foundation for our plans to implement solar solutions on all CCAC campuses,” he said.

Additionally, through a power purchase agreement with BAI, the college did not spend its own money on the project. Through a power purchase agreement a third-party investor — in this case, BAI — owns and maintains the solar array. The host site — CCAC — pays for the energy generated by the solar array, typically at a much lower price than what the host was paying before, according to a CCAC.

Solar arrays have an approximate 30-year lifespan.

Kerzmann said it’s ideal to have a south-facing roof and less shade for a solar array. The bigger the roof, the better the fit. A roof should be structurally sound and not too old prior to installation, he said.

Solar panel costs have dropped more than 80 percent in the last 10 years, and the industry is growing rapidly, said Kerzmann.

“A business owner is paying for electricity up front and that can scare some folks away. But even with the cost to finance a solar array, the long-term savings far surpass the initial expenses,” he said.

Pennsylvania Solar doesn’t provide assistance to homeowners at this time, but the program does have a directory of solar installers and a sheet of frequently asked questions for homeowners, Pillar said. It is available at pasolarcenter.org/get-solar/residential/.

Kerzmann has a solar array on his home, which cost $16,000 and produces 80 percent of electricity consumption over the next 30 years for his home. It reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 14,000 pounds annually. His locked-in electricity rate won’t change for the next 30 years, even as electric utility rates fluctuate.

The McCandless EAC can be contacted more information. Questions can be directed to [email protected] or [email protected].

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