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VOL. 127 | NO. 147 | Monday, July 30, 2012




Future Looking Bright At Bartlett’s ECE Solar

By JONATHAN DEVIN

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Most people who install solar panels to their home understand that it’s an investment that takes awhile to pay off.

Lee Lowrie, from left, Bill Turberville, and Robert Wallace are with ECE Solar in Bartlett. The company provides electrical engineering and construction in 21 states. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Being in the business of installing solar panels is much the same. Still, Bill Turberville of Electrical Contracting Enterprises LLC, 3080 Stage Post Road in Bartlett, said he’d rather be the first in that market than the last.

“We’ve seen a trend coming this way slowly but surely,” said Turberville, whose company includes the division called ECE Solar. “I’d say in the next five years you won’t see any new homes that aren’t made solar-ready. We’re trying to be on the leading edge instead of the trailing edge.”

Right now the cutting edge for solar panels is in New England and the West Coast, and Turberville said he’s done more installations in parts of North Mississippi under TVA’s jurisdiction than he has in Memphis.

Commercial installations are more popular than residential. However, ECE Solar only represents about five percent of the parent company’s volume, and much of that was due to a spurt of federal stimulus money for green upgrades to businesses, which is now gone.

Turberville established Electrical Contracting Enterprises in 2003. He became a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCET) certified solar installer and opened ECE Solar about four years ago.

The relatively high cost of solar systems is the main factor driving down demand, but Turberville said prices are already falling. Systems that used to cost $4 or $5 a watt, now cost $1 a watt.

Meanwhile the return on the investment remains an incentive.

“It’s changing, particularly on the commercial side,” Turberville said. “(The systems) are paying off in about seven and a half years. On the residential side, just because of the size of the systems, it costs a little bit more, but even that being the case, these systems will last for 30 years. After a few years your system is paid for and you’ve got 20 years of producing power.”

TVA still offers a credit of $1,000 for commissioning a residential unit and will pay 12 cents above the retail rate for every kilowatt hour of energy produced.

Turberville had solar panels installed on his home and had no utility bill for a few months. Now he averages about $80 in savings monthly.

But Southerners face some red tape in addition to making a large financial investment on a solar system.

ECE Solar buys some of its panels from Sharp Manufacturing, which has a solar panel factory in Memphis but no retail outlet.

“If you buy (panels) in the megawatt size, you can go pick them up at the factory, otherwise we have to get them shipped in from California,” Turberville said. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to help our local economy. We would like to see some way that we could pick them up at the dock.”

And then contractual agreements between different power providers sometimes create hassle.

Greenwood Utilities of Greenwood, Miss., had ECE Solar install an array in 2011.

“Since it’s been in service, it’s produced 74.5 megawatts of power – that’s enough to run five football stadiums for a day,” said Eric Pollan, senior vice president of generation/power supply.

But because of Mississippi’s metering system with Entergy, power produced by the array doesn’t necessarily supplant power produced by other sources.

“There’s a definite interest in solar,” Pollan said. “Since we put this one out here, we’ve had numerous calls inquiring about it and how to go about getting one. The problem is that until our government decides to change the way our metering is set up, then I think you’ll see a few more (systems), but not as many as say in Arkansas.”

Turberville planned a canvassing campaign in Collierville for the end of July to spread the word about solar systems. He said he still believes the market will someday be in his backyard.

“People don’t like to put solar on the front of their houses and I can’t really blame them, but in California, they’re all on the front of the houses,” said Turberville. “They’re going to put them up however they can get them up.”

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