Bottom line still rules in solar decisions

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There are plenty of environmental reasons for choosing a solar energy system, but Bernie Stanley, president of Shockoe Solar in Ashland, doesn’t mention any of them when making an initial sales pitch. Instead, he emphasizes the financial benefits in this renewable energy source.

“Solar is really a great financial investment because it can pay for itself in a relatively short time,” says Stanley, whose company provides solar consulting, system design and installation. He notes that installed systems start at about $19,000.

Solar allows customers to create their own electricity and lower their overall utility bill, Stanley says. In addition, they can sell unused energy back to their local electric utility in the form of credits. Moreover, the long-term maintenance costs are low compared with other energy sources, he says.

“I certainly have customers that are very environmentally conscious and put in solar specifically for that reason, but most of them do it because they’ve analyzed the numbers and recognized that they can get a strong return on their investment in a short period of time,” Stanley says. “For them, the environment is a fringe benefit.”

This practical approach is one reason why Shockoe Solar is thriving in a down economy. The company, begun in 2008, had gross revenues of $540,000 last year and now has five employees. Stanley says that he already has signed contracts worth over $600,000 this year, and he expects that several pending projects that are awaiting financing will push company revenue over $1 million in 2010.

Stanley, who holds a Class A contracting license, spent years building and renovating high-end homes. “When people think of solar, they’re thinking panels and plugs, but it’s really a construction project,” he states, noting that installations can also involve clearing trees, digging holes and trenches and pouring concrete.

Stanley says that while most of his clients are homeowners, he has begun to make inroads into the commercial market. His customers include a veterinary clinic and a large grocery distribution center. His goal is to convince more businesses of the bottom-line justification for solar. “It will take some education for some people to see this as more than a novelty and really a smart business move,” he says, noting that some businesses are willing but can’t get loans. “However, I think it will catch on sooner than later because electric rates are only going to keep rising, and the cost of solar is coming down.”

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