Island businesses shift to renewable energy
Commercial conversion to alternative renewable energy on Martha's Vineyard is still taking baby steps, but several Island businesses see it as a practical way to cut costs and benefit the community.
South Mountain Company Inc. a West Tisbury-based design/build firm, is seeing a steady increase in Island business interest in energy-efficiency audits, as well as the installation of solar energy creating equipment, according to Rob Meyers, renewable energy division sales manager.
Our Market in Oak Bluffs is undertaking the installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, whose goal is to generate 12,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy annually, or 10 percent of the electric power Our Market requires. Construction of the solar system is expected to be completed in December. South Mountain has designed the system and is overseeing construction.
According to Mr. Meyers, the Our Market solar panels will cost about $100,000 to install, but with federal tax credits and the Commonwealth Solar program (funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaboration, or MTC ) rebate the system will cost less than $40,000. The solar system can also be depreciated over five years.
"It is a new era for renewable energy," says Mr. Meyers. "It is likely that a system like this one installed next year will pay back its initial cost in 10 years." He adds that solar energy savings must be computed, taking into account the steady annual inflation of energy costs.
Our Market's general manager, Jamie McNeely, says that the effort to reduce energy costs is only a first step. "We are trying to be proactive and do our little part for the environment," he explains. Our Market is now "locked into a fixed rate with the electric company" that saves them about 35 percent on energy costs "but when that goes away, there is no telling how high the cost would go."
Cronig's Market is now finalizing plans to install solar panels on the roof of both the Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury stores. The Vineyard Haven store conversion will happen first, with permits now in hand, although construction is still two years away, according to owner Steve Bernier.
Much has been learned about the installation of solar panels since Cronig's down-Island's Healthy Additions store added solar panels a few years ago. "We did not have enough bracing to support the panels, and a lot of wood was over exposed to the sun so we lost two or three panels," explains Mr. Bernier. The issue of dealing with condensation still needs to be addressed also.
"The energy savings are minimal. We did not do it to make money, we did it to be a good business partner in the community," Mr. Bernier said. "When we get the three buildings done, it will be the stuff we need to do to reduce our oil dependency and be doing the appropriate things we need to do on this Island. It still won't be to make a buck."
The new 90,000-square-foot Martha's Vineyard Hospital includes in its construction plans the installation of a 45-kilowatt solar panel system on the roof, as well as the purchase of wind turbine power. The goal is to use alternative energy to replace about 35 percent of the hospital's electrical energy requirement with non-carbon alternative energy, according to the permitting approval documents submitted to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
According to Columbia Construction's Neil Lemieux, manager of preconstruction services for the hospital, the solar panel installation is expected to cost $375,000, but the hospital has received a grant from the MTC of $195,0000 toward that cost. The Martha's Vineyard Commission permitting documents also explain that the hospital will use only Energy Star lighting fixtures and bulbs, along with roof-top gardens to reduce heat generation.
And Morning Glory Farm of Edgartown has just received a $50,000 federal grant through the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (DAR), for the construction of a 50-kilowatt wind turbine. With four greenhouses and three walk-in coolers, the Farm's energy demand is large, according to owner Jim Athearn. He expects the 100-foot turbine will supply half of the farm's electrical power. The total construction cost is estimated at $200,000.