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Solar on the rise in Wayne County

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WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Whether you’re walking down Main Street in Honesdale or driving near the outermost edges of Wayne County, you’re likely to spot evidence of an increase in solar use over the past several years.

If you know Jack Barnett, then this will come as no surprise. As a board member of Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS) and president of the Clean Energy Co-op, he’s had a hand in many of the area’s recent solar projects.

SEEDS hosted one of its annual events this past Tuesday, a do-it-yourself solar installation workshop. This was the seventh year its hosted the presentation, and Barnett said there is always a good turnout

“It’s one of our most popular events for the year. We usually have 30-plus attendees,” Barnett said.

Attendees learned about the technical aspects involved in installing solar panels on their roofs and how to evaluate their location in relation to the sun.

Barnett also was there to teach folks how to maneuver through the paperwork necessary to make solar as cost effective as possible. One incentive for homeowners is a tax credit that comes with switching to solar.

“If you owe federal income tax, you can get a credit up to one-third of the cost of the solar system,” he said. He added that people who switch save money because solar allows them to generate their own electricity rather than buy it from utility companies.

The upfront expenses of investing in solar have historically been too high for many homeowners to commit to the switch, but Barnett noted that the prices have dropped significantly in the past several years. He also said that PA residents have been switching to solar in increasing numbers, despite the state’s lack of incentive programs compared to New York.

“Even places in Pennsylvania where electricity prices are relatively low and there really are no state incentive programs, solar is happening,” Barnett said.

For those who cannot commit to installing solar panels on their homes, there are many smaller ways to access solar power. On Monday, July 8, the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance will host a workshop on how to build your own solar powered charging station.

Anthony Komar, who will lead the workshop, said that solar chargers are handy to have on the go, mentioning that people have put them on campers, boats and bicycles to keep their batteries charged while “off the grid.”

“It’s a nice, easy technology to wrap your head around,” he said.

In his work with industrial manufacturing company Siemens, Komar uses the charging stations he builds as examples when training other engineers. He’s also used the stations when making presentations at large conferences around the country and in Europe and Asia.

“People have ideas [about solar], they should look for people to turn those ideas into some type of reality,” Komar said, talking both about how local residents can incorporate more solar power into their daily lives, and how large companies should invest more in coming up what he calls “portable solar solutions.”

At a local level, Barnett said that the Clean Energy Co-op has some proposed projects still in the planning stages. The first proposed project is with the county government to install solar panels on the roof of the Stourbridge Project building.

“Innovation is a really important part of their purpose, and the commissioners really wanted to support that by having the [Stourbridge] Project primarily powered by solar,” Barnett said.

The other project would be with a farmer in Damascus, George Oechsler. The co-op has helped Oechsler apply for a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture  Renewable Energy for America Program, and has also offered him a loan so he can install a solar system at his farm.

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