Alex Lukacher, a member of the Brigantine Chamber of Commerce and chief operating officer of Nextek Solar and Energy Management, gives a talk on the benefits of solar energy Saturday at the Community Center.

Ray Schweibert / For The Beachcomber

A forum was held Saturday morning, April 15 at the Brigantine Community Center on the advantages of powering businesses and residences with solar energy. The meeting covered options available for purchasing, leasing and installing solar equipment, and the government incentives and energy-cost savings that can come from having solar installed.

The meeting was conducted by Alex Lukacher, a member of the Brigantine Chamber of Commerce and chief operating officer of Nextek Solar and Energy Management, which has two offices in southern New Jersey. Tom Jeffers and Jim Calista, two other solar-industry professionals, were on hand to help answer questions from the roughly 15 residents who attended.

Guests were handed an informal agenda that contained bullet points addressed during the discussion. Among them was a common sales pitch some solar companies will make implying free solar power, which Lukacher said is misleading.

“Installation may be free, or they might offer free maintenance or no money down, but to advertise it as free solar is a total lie,” he said. “It's something that I hate to see because it hurts our business. Nobody's giving anything away free because they like you. They're doing it because their return on investment is tremendous.”

Lukacher said homeowners and solar-energy consumers would benefit greatly from educating themselves as much as possible before making any decision on purchasing a solar system. He said that since major power companies often have free rein to charge what they will in the areas they service, nearly any decision a home or business owner makes regarding solar installation would be better than what they currently have.

When Lukacher posed the question as to why the solar industry seems to have a growing presence in the South Jersey area, audience responses included solar's role in reducing carbon emissions, benefits to the environment, government incentives and savings on energy bills. These he confirmed as the major selling points, adding that New Jersey is one of the best states in the nation in terms of being solar friendly.

“New Jersey may be well-known for high property taxes and high insurance costs, but where it comes to solar it is one of the best,” he said.

Most homeowners in New Jersey enter into a power purchase agreement with a solar company in which the company covers much of the installation and design costs and then sells the power generated to the homeowner at a rate less than the local utility company's retail rate.

Solar systems operate on a “net meter” that charges for power drawn during heavy usage or during cloudy or rainy days, but spins in the reverse direction if power consumed is less than power generated on a particular day. Solar companies and solar consumers can also generate solar renewable energy credits, often called SRECs, that can be sold to industrial companies to help offset their carbon emissions and keep them in compliance with a state's renewable energy standards, which in New Jersey are among the nation's highest.

Jeffers fielded most of the questions that applied to system installation. He said a solar-panel array can be installed on the ground or on any rooftop, and is anchored to the building foundation, not through the roof shingles.

Panels come in different grades, he said, with Tier 1 panels being best. A well-made solar panel will not rust and is extremely difficult to break, and while panels may lose a small percent of their generating capacity over time, they never lose complete ability to generate power, according to Jeffers. If one panel stops working for whatever reason, the others continue to generate.

A solar array with southern exposure to the sun typically is most effective, Jeffers said.

“There are systems in place today that were installed 20 years ago that are still generating power,” he said.

Jeffers said that a solar system should not be installed on any roof that is structurally unsound or in need of replacement, and that ideally a solar array should be installed near or around the same time a new roof is installed. Removing and reinstalling a solar array is costly, he said, but solar panels covering a roof help protect its lifespan, and the savings from solar installation over the average life expectancy of a roof would more than make the investment worthwhile, he said.