PORTLAND — When Becky Rand renovated her iconic diner on Commercial Street four years ago, she wanted to add solar heating panels but couldn’t afford to do it.
She made sure the necessary plumbing was installed, though, so if the funds became available, she would be able to add a solar hot-water system in the future.
So when ReVision Energy called Rand and told her about a grant available through Efficiency Maine and federal stimulus funds, plus a tax incentive, she jumped on the opportunity.
“That made it affordable for me,” Rand said.
Rand worked closely with ReVision over the next year and a half, filling out the many necessary forms and documents to make her solar-heated hot-water system a reality.
Finally, last week, the eight panels and a 160-gallon water tank were installed. Rand said that in the height of the summer, when the diner is the busiest and is using the most hot water, the panels should provide all the heat she needs for hot water.
“We do see a lot of interest (in solar panels),” said ReVision Energy marketing and office manager Jennifer Hatch. “The challenge for most businesses is cash flow and coming up with the cash up front.”
Even though Becky’s $25,000 solar-panel system will be half paid for by the Efficiency Maine grant, the family-run diner had to pay for the project up front, then get reimbursed by the grant. There will also be tax incentives that will help defray the costs.
For Matt Marston, who owns the 7-year-old Basics Fitness on Western Avenue in South Portland with his parents, the incentives and help from ReVision Energy made it possible to install a $22,000 six-panel solar system with two hot water tanks.
“This project isn’t something a small business can just do on its own,” Marston said. “ReVision held our hand through the whole process.”
He said ReVision employees would call and remind him when paperwork came due, and helped him apply for the Efficiency Maine grant, which will cover half the cost of his company’s system.
Both Marston and Rand said the decision to install solar panels on their businesses was about protecting the environment and cutting back on their use of fossil fuels. But it also made good business sense.
“We’ll pay it all back in two years,” Martson said. “A system like this, it’s really a no-brainer.”
“It’s free energy for the life of the system,” Hatch said.
The systems are expected to last 25 to 30 years before they must be updated, and are warrantied for 20 years. There are few moving parts, so maintenance is simple and rarely necessary.
It’s a decision business owners can feel good about, Rand said.
“For people like me, with grandchildren, you want to think you’re leaving something nice for your grandchildren,” Rand said. “Maine is special – we don’t appreciate what we have here, how beautiful it is. I want that maintained.”
Becky’s Diner manager Katie Madden, 29, right, who is also the diner’s namesake’s daughter, points to new solar panels on the restaurant’s roof, while her cousin and coworker, Vanessa Mathews, 18, looks on.
Basics Fitness owner Matt Marston shows off the gym’s hot water tanks, which are heated by solar panels installed on the South Portland business’ roof three weeks ago.
Basics Fitness owner Matt Marston points out the solar panel heat monitor installed in the lobby of the family-owned gym on Western Avenue in South Portland. Marston had six solar panels installed three weeks ago, which will heat the water gym members use for showers.