Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a two-part series about solar homes in Seneca County. Please check out the first story, if you haven’t already, in last week’s issue. 

As the City of Geneva and Ontario County see solar projects—like the Lake Tunnel Solar Village, and The Solar Home Factory produce results—residents in Seneca County are asking an important, timely question: Is this something that could work here?

While individual solar farm proposals have been a hot topic throughout Seneca and in the entire Finger Lakes—projects like the solar village in Geneva—are eyed as a ‘happy medium’ by proponents. They don’t take up large swaths of land, and provide residential solutions to issues like power supply-and-demand. It also helps provide a solution to those who are concerned about the grid, locally or elsewhere, in the long-term.

Questions have been posed about the safety of solar panels. Especially those where significant numbers could be present. The prevailing question being, “When solar panels break down, do they break down safely?” It’s been a common question at public hearings around the region as governing bodies consider approval of solar farms. Residents worry about their safety; and the cost endured when solar is adopted. 

“Solar panels are fundamentally stable units with no moving parts,” said Ryan Wallace, CEO of The Solar Home Factory, and partner in the Lake Tunnel Solar Village community. The Solar Home Factory builds houses to a standard that typical housing cannot. Wallace says that’s a big driving force behind The Solar Home Factory’s success. That said, when it comes to reminding users and homeowners of the safety and stability of solar arrays, the existing stock drives that point home. 

“We have panels in the field from 1995 that are still 80 percent effective. The tempered glass can withstand a 1-inch hail strike at 90 mph. The inverter may have to be serviced in 15 years, same as your furnace,” Wallace explained. “The panels are warrantied for 30 years and are expected to produce meaningful amounts of energy for 50 plus years.”

Those benchmarks are unachievable in many ways due to the methods of traditional construction. “Our homes are being built in a controlled environment, and to a standard of craftsmanship that cannot be duplicated in traditional housing,” Wallace added. He says that the largest barrier now is the cost of natural gas.

“If supply begins to dwindle, or we start exporting natural gas to Asia, you’ll see see electricity rates skyrocket,” Wallace continued. It could be a driver for more homeowners, businesses, and industries as a whole to move to electric. “That may happen anyway as we move to a more electricity-based transportation economy.”

But those are slow-moving trends. And homeowners of the present and future—not those who have lived in their homes for decades—are looking for sustainability. Wallace says the two big misconceptions about solar homes like those produced in Geneva is that lifestyle must be changed in order to “live off the grid.” 

“The only change to lifestyle for our buyers is they don’t have to pay a utility bill anymore,” Wallace said, responding to that concern. He says that entry cost into the world of solar is also a common concern.

“You’ll hear people say, ‘It’s too expensive’,” Wallace added. “The cost of a dollar array and heat pump is the same amount of money that you’ve already dedicated to pay NYSEG over the next 10 years through gas and electric bills.”

When it comes to local adoption, Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti (R-Fayette) says it’s a matter of location. “I would be very cautious about location and mindful of agricultural land and the importance it brings to this County, but residents of New York State as a whole,” she explained. “Projects — like solar farms — which would take large amounts of prime farmland out of production for farmers is the right path.”

Perhaps that is the strongest argument for the Lake Tunnel Solar Village, or similar community, which could be self-sufficient. That development is being executed on a piece of property that would serve a traditional single- or two-family home. Meanwhile, it will have 20 single-family units on that small piece of property. 

Lorenzetti says that regardless, communities across the region have to be mindful of energy programs that diversify and save residents money in the long-term. “We have to be open-minded about energy programs that are being offered and what value they bring to a County, but also responsible about setting up the rules and guidelines,” she explained. “Moderation is really key, and ensuring that we don’t move too quickly in one direction.”

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