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Second solar meeting draws more interested residents

November 25, 2015
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

More Sanibel and Captiva residents gathered at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge last week to learn about the SanCap Solar Connect Program, an initiative designed by "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society Friends of the Refuge.

Although the hour-long presentation shared the same information from the previous meeting, some questions asked by the audience brought additional light on the program.

"Ding" Darling Wildlife Society Executive Director Birgie Miller began the program by sharing that the society became involved after the refuge came to them stating that they had been wanting solar for years.

"Unfortunately with federal funding there's just not federal funding available for that. Maybe one day there will be, but then they will have to compete for it with the 562 other refuges. So the likelihood of them getting it anytime soon was not high. So they came to the society and said is there anyway we can do this. It turned into one of the first community wide solarized efforts working together trying to bring solar energy, more affordable to people on Sanibel and Captiva because we were already trying to bring solar to the refuge," she said.

SanCap Solar Connect Committee Chairman John McCabe said they got into the program as a way to decrease costs for the refuge. Through that process, he said they discovered a solarizing campaign that began in other parts of the country that has been quite successful in putting together a group purchase of solar electric installations.

"We are trying to lower the cost. The best way to do that is get a group of us together, so we can group purchase and get the price down," McCabe said.

The program has a deadline of purchasing solar panels through SanCap Solar Connect of Feb. 15, 2016. He said the deadline is in place because they need people to sign the contract and have installation by Feb. 15 in order to receive the group rates. It is also important because the 30 percent federal tax credit expires at the end of 2016.

"We want to get in and get it organized in a way that we can be absolutely sure that the installation takes place. In addition to the commitment, to get the tax credit they actually have to be installed and the power company has to turn it on," McCabe said.

When solar electricity is purchased as a group, the savings is based on the total kilowatts for the entire group. The savings equates to about 26 percent off the regular market charges, if 150 to 200 kilowatts is met.

A 12 panel system will cost a homeowner around $10,000, which is the out of pocket cost.

Jason Szumlanski, principal designer at Florida Solar Design Group, who has partnered with Urban Solar, a licensed contractor to perform the installations of the systems, provided information during the hour long presentation.

He said under the program residents have a fixed price per panel. He said residents will pay the same amount if they buy 10 panels or 100 panels.

"You can say I want to spend $20,000, $10,000, $50,000 and we can tell you how many panels you can buy for that. That is a nice thing under the program. It takes the guess work out of it and the pricing is established," Szumlanski said. "Another way to do it is say my electric bill is $150 and I want to cover $120 of that with solar electricity."

Solar energy, he said is a long term, low risk investment.

"If you are worried about the prices of natural gas spiking, and by the way Florida is over 60 percent reliant on natural gas for electricity production and that is going up. As the natural gas prices fluctuation occurs that is going to impact the rates on your electricity bills. By installing solar energy your are potentially hedging against that risk," Szumlanski said.

He said the SanCap Solar Connect program has negotiated pricing for the solar electric systems that are grid interactive.

"That means the system interacts with the utility grid and works in parallel with the utility grid to provide energy for your house," Szumlanski said.

The solar panels that will be placed on an individual's roof are DC electrical current, which is compatible to the homes electric system, AC. Micro inverters are mounted on the roof, or a larger inverter is mounted on a wall, to convert the electricity from a solar panel to useable AC electric for the home.

"Your home electrical system does not change in any way," he said.

The presentation shared information on such topics as net metering, mounting systems, the panels and its warranties, string and micro inverters, maintenance and insurance and roof repair.

Towards the end of the presentation, he shared that their first installation was going to permitting Wednesday, Nov. 17, which the city said would go through a five to seven day review window.

"We did meet with Judy Zimomra, the city manager, we also met with the city council. The city council passed a resolution supporting this project. So I think we have support at that level now," McCabe said.

It is fairly easy for individuals to sign up for the SanCap Solar Connect Program. Those who attended the Nov. 17 meeting had the chance to sign a sheet showing their interest. Individuals can also sign up at

The next informational meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at the refuge.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.



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