Ernst Country Market owner says solar panels are an investment for next generation

August 29, 2011|By DAVE MCMILLION |
  • Bill Anderson, left, owner of Milestone Solar Consultants LLC, and Greg Ernst, owner of Ernst Country Market in Clear Spring, discuss the decision Ernst recently made to place solar panels on his store's roof.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

CLEAR SPRING — Ernst Country Market has been in the Ernst family since 1945 and Greg Ernst has operated the store on Dam Number 5 Road since 1973.

Now, Ernst is preparing the store for the future with a 156-panel solar system on the roof that is expected to offset approximately 20 percent of the store’s annual electric bill.

“For me, it’s like an investment for the next generation,” said Ernst, who noted that he hopes family members will continue to run the business.

Ernst Country Market is one of a growing number of businesses — small and large — that are turning to solar power to help them offset electricity costs.

Ernst said he had been thinking about a solar system for his store for years, especially after adding a large storage and warehouse addition to the building.

The roof was spacious, free of shade and facing south, a nearly perfect condition for solar panels, according to Bill Anderson of Falling Waters, W.Va.-based Milestone Solar Consultants LLC, the company that installed the system.

“With a project this size, you kinda lay awake at night saying, ‘Did I do the right thing?’” Ernst said recently as he stood outside his store.

But working with his longtime friend, Anderson, Ernst said he felt good about his investment.

Ernst and Anderson grew up together, played baseball in a lot next to the store and graduated from Clear Spring High School.

But Ernst said their friendship was not the reason he went with Milestone Solar Consultants LLC. Ernst said he did a lot of research on the project before selecting the company for the job.

A crew installed the 156, 240-watt modules on the store and, at the end of June, the switch was flipped on the system, Anderson said.

Anderson walked around the store pointing out the system’s different components. He sat down in an office area at a computer that tracks the performance of the system. The computer tells him that the system generated at least 200 kilowatts of power on 13 of 25 days in July.

“I think that’s impressive,” said Anderson, explaining that 200 kilowatts is more than enough energy to supply an average household for a day.

In addition to its grocery selection, Ernst Country Market has its own butcher shop, offers a line of seafood and offers deer processing. The store uses a lot of power with its air conditioning and other equipment, Anderson said.

Ernst would not say how much he paid for the system, but he and Anderson said it is expected to pay for itself through savings on the store’s electric bill in four to five years.

The system is rated to last 25 years, but it likely will last longer, although it might not run as efficiently, Ernst said.

Anderson said solar systems are becoming attractive for businesses due to a variety of incentives, including a federal accelerated depreciation program.

Under that incentive, a system costing $200,000 could net a $90,000 tax credit for the buyer of the system, Anderson said.

There also is a 30 percent tax credit on the purchase of a system, Anderson said. And in Maryland, solar system owners can receive 50 cents for every watt of power generated, Anderson said.

The money comes to solar owners through a regular check.

“That should be a big incentive for a business,” Anderson said.

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