The BIG Business of Renewable Energy

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS
Deryck Montante and Anthony Robbins do solar work Tuesday on the roof of Fourth Coast Inc. in Clayton.

BY: NICOLE CALDWELL

Sustainability is hardly a buzzword anymore.

                The term—which, at its most literal, refers to any action that can be repeated indefinitely—has caught on as more than a lifestyle trend or fringe movement. The reality is, sustainability is smart business. Its pragmatism grows clearer by the day, as we hear of increasing environmental crises, energy costs, and conflicting corporate interests that are the antithesis of circular systems. And sustainability’s largest arm—renewable energy—is catching on quickly for Northern New York companies.

                Renewable energy will be the fastest-growing power source through 2040, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. In addition, companies that commit to running on renewables are proven to be more attractive to potential customers. Whether a holistic approach for an entire corporation’s ethos or a singular “going green” initiative, companies that utilize renewable energy are benefitting in a number of ways.

                By 2010, around 94 percent of grid-tied electricity being commercially produced in the north country came directly from renewable resources. Businesses that similarly tap into that boundless energy can better predict annual utilities costs while tracking usage more efficiently than ever before. For larger businesses, renewable energy can equate to thousands in savings monthly or yearly. And for companies like Davidson Chevrolet, switching to renewables is one giant leap toward offsetting the very carbon dioxide emissions their chief products are producing.

A COMMON-SENSE APPROACH TO A CARBON-EMITTING INDUSTRY

When Davidson Automotive Group owners invested millions in 16 solar-array projects at locations throughout Central and Northern New York, it was big news. Think about it: a company selling products that release carbon emissions, going green? But this was hardly the result of a lifelong call to environmental activism, nor was it a political statement or publicity stunt. It was just good business. 

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS

                “Like many things in life, it happened by accident,” co-owner Donald R. Davidson said. “In 2012 when we were putting in new buildings, our contractor actually brought it up and said, ‘Would you be interested in having the conversation?’ I said sure, conversation’s free. So we met [with the High Peaks Solar staff] and they discussed the general theory of solar. It sounded interesting, so we asked them to put some prices together. Which they did, and so we decided to try it on the two buildings we were building in Watertown.”

                The Watertown installation, completed by High Peaks Solar and DC Building Systems, was such a success at Davidson Chevrolet that the owners decided to do more at that location. The array today is more than 1 megawatt in size, utilizes ground-mount and roof-mount systems packed with roughly 5,500 individual panels, and feeds multiple Davidson Automotive buildings along Route 11. But the company didn’t stop there. Davidson Automotive now boasts more than 16 completed solar-array projects at locations throughout Central and Northern New York.

                “I think customers are looking at their own situations needs,” Mr. Davidson said. “There are certainly people who are buying electric and fuel-efficient vehicles who are really into the environment.” For those clients, Mr. Davidson said, the renewable energy grid the company has constructed is an added incentive to shop at Davidson Chevrolet for a fuel-efficient Chevy Spark, hybrid Volt, or all-electric Chevy Bolt. “For us, it was a great way to bring down our energy costs while also benefitting the environment.”

HOW NORTHERN NEW YORK BUSINESSES USE ENERGY

New York state is the United States’ fifth-largest user of renewable electricity, producing almost 23 percent of its electrical power with renewable sources. That’s mainly from hydroelectricity, followed by wind, biomass, geothermal and (the fastest-growing market) solar. Every renewable system significantly reduces carbon emissions while allowing power to be produced and predicted on-site at a fraction of the cost of other natural resources.

                Municipalities that tap into renewable resources lower utilities costs for area consumers (business and resident alike) while also offering job opportunities in new and expanding markets.

                Hydroelectric power plants generate electricity from falling water that in turn drives turbines. New York was recently ranked fourth highest in hydropower capacity by the International Energy Association.

                Wind drives turbines with moving air. Potential for harnessing even more of that power in New York is measured to be significantly higher than the amount we are currently tapping, driving industry to aggressively pursue on- and off-shore, commercial wind-generation plants.

                Biomass power is harnessed during the process of burning wood, plant matter, or combusting biogas such as sewage, manure or other methane-producing materials. In addition to utilizing a renewable resource, biomass-produced power saves on spending for waste disposal and management of what is otherwise considered a waste product, such as sewage.

                Geothermal systems capitalize on the stable temperature of underground water by utilizing piping systems called “loops” to circulate water that heats or cools spaces, depending on the season. Instead of, say, heating an office space when the outside air temperature is minus 10 degrees—or cooling it when it’s 90 degrees out—heating and cooling commences from a constant, underground water temperature of between 50 and 60 degrees. That makes geothermal significantly more efficient than any heating or cooling source that’s reliant on huge fluctuations in outside air temperature.

                And last, but perhaps most familiar, is solar technology. The sun is Planet Earth’s most reliable and abundant source of energy—and harnessing the sun’s power is a business that’s been growing in leaps and bounds over the last decade as incentives grow and prices shrink. The sun continues to be a largely untapped resource in spite of this: Bill Gates, following a meeting with Caltech Professor Nate Lewis in March, reported that more energy from the sun hits the Earth in one hour than humans use in an entire year. Finding efficient and inexpensive methods for tapping that resource puts us in a perfect position to harness boundless amounts of what Mr. Gates termed a “clean, affordable and reliable energy source for the future.” To sidestep the pesky issue of the sun setting each night and the reality of low-light, cloudy days, engineers are looking at the potential of solar fuels, which would have a higher density than batteries and could therefore store and transport significantly higher amounts of solar power.

                As we await those fuels (which scientists are unsure can be made), businesses are harnessing the sun’s rays through panels attached to ground- and roof-mounted systems and solar farms. These arrays create easy-to-use power for the grid, private residences, municipalities and companies. Solar photovoltaic systems (installations of which have grown every year since 2000, according to Scientific American) generate electricity; while active solar panels warm air or liquid that then warm spaces like buildings or water tanks.

                Utilities reimburse photovoltaic owners for produced electricity they’re not using, which turns the grid itself into a form of energy storage. This setup benefits everyone; as the biggest drain on the electric grid also occurs when the most solar can be produced: hot days with plenty of sunshine.

RENEWABLE INSTALLERS ENJOY SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS SENSE

The north country is rife with businesses looking to renewable energies to power their plants, storefronts and offices. But renewable energy has become big business for the companies performing the installations, as well.

                “You could describe it as a lifelong passion,” said Robert J. Campany, project manager at Fourth Coast Inc., a Clayton-based company started in 2008 that specializes in installation of renewable energy systems that include solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and geothermal. “With energy prices continuing to rise and the uncertainty of supply, it became clear [to partner Augusta “Gus” Withington and me] that particularly solar energy/photovoltaics were going to become a large part of energy production. And with our engineering backgrounds, we saw the simplicity of solar as an added bonus.”

   

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY BUSINESS
Fourth Coast’s A.J. Veith, renewable energy design and sales, stands in the warehouse with boxes of solar panels for future projects.

             Starting Fourth Coast grew out of necessity, Mr. Campany said. “Quite honestly, one of the reasons we started was that Gus and I both wanted to install solar on our homes and we couldn’t find anybody to do it. There wasn’t anyone in Northern New York we could have gone to. We certainly saw the need from both the environmental and the practical standpoint, but also from a business standpoint.  We saw an underserved market.”

                Fourth Coast’s biggest business is in solar installation. But Mr. Campany said he’s also excited about geothermal, which is becoming more mainstream—especially when paired with solar to cover increased electrical costs to run pumps. “Geothermal is exciting because you can create all your solar electric via your solar panels and actually use that energy with the geothermal to heat in the wintertime and cool in the summertime. So you’re at net-zero, and you’re not dependent on fossil fuels at all. Basically, any property will support geothermal. It’s just a matter of the design of the in-ground system, and whether you use vertical, drilled wells or horizontal, dug trenches. We have never run into a property that we couldn’t come up with a solution for a ground source,” he said.

                The prospect for renewable energy doesn’t stop at individual businesses or homes, either. Fourth Coast has bonded together 11 municipalities with solar—“over a quarter of a megawatt, or 250,000 watts,” Mr. Campany said—and worked on a number of similarly large projects throughout Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Onondaga counties. “I want to stress the municipal market,” Campany said, “because while municipalities can’t take advantage of a lot of the tax credits, these installations benefit every taxpayer in that municipality. So one of our passions is to work with the municipal market as much as we can.”

                Campany’s being earnest. He, along with other workers in his field, certainly likes the profits. But what’s especially exciting is experiencing customers’ satisfaction.

                “Just being able to work to complete our customers’ dreams is the best,” Mr. Campany said. “So many of our customers are so excited about it, and to be able to see their dreams come to fruition, it’s a great feeling. Gus and I both relive the excitement every time we throw the switch for the first time. To see those customers so gratified… and then to get the phone message or the text six months or a year later saying, ‘It worked just as you said!’—that’s the best.”

CONSUMERS ARE SEEING GREEN

A whopping 81 percent of consumers say they’re willing to make actual, personal sacrifices in order to address social and environmental issues, according to a 2015 study conducted by Cone Communications and marketing-analytics specialist Ebiquity. Nine in every 10 people, according to that study, expect companies to address social and environmental issues in addition to turning profits. Globally, 84 percent of consumers claim to actively seek out responsible products that were produced ethically or “green” and/or do not incorporate sweatshops, animal abuse, or contribute to greenhouse gases in their transportation and use.

                With numbers like that, it behooves every business to consider its increasingly sophisticated base.

                And although millennials, born to Baby Boomers in the early ‘80s and mid-90s, have come of age in the most challenging economic climate in the last century, a 2015 global study by Nielsen found 75 percent of this generation is actively ready and willing to pay extra for sustainable services and goods. That’s up 25 percent from a similar Nielsen study in 2014. But that doesn’t exclude Baby Boomers aged 50 to 64, 51 percent of whom are also happy to pay extra for businesses that invest in sustainably produced products.

                And in the case of renewable energies, you have businesses whose investments in sustainability will be made back within a decade—meaning customers are willing to pay more, while the business is, theoretically, actually paying less.

NORTHERN NEW YORK’S NOT NEW TO RENEWABLES

Most folks in this area have at least a cursory knowledge of renewable energy potential. We’ve all heard murmurs of wind-power controversies that have sprung up around the region in the last decade, and each of us knows someone using solar to charge a boat battery, power a camp, or offset a National Grid bill.

                That’s because throughout the state, you can see the renewables energy game playing out.

                Solar power in New York State has risen by 800 percent between 2011 and 2016, with this state’s solar industry fourth largest in the country. That’s created more than 8,200 jobs statewide, according to the governor’s office—a rise of more than 3,000 jobs since 2013. The jump in solar projects includes more than 64,926 installations procuring 744 megawatts of output. The north country alone is responsible for more than 1,063 of these projects, surpassing an output of roughly 13 megawatts.

                As numbers continue to come in for 2016, projections suggest that year will have produced another 1,000 jobs related to New York’s solar project pipeline.

                Needless to say, New York (and specifically Northern New York) is hardly new to the discussion of renewable energy and its implementation.

                ReEnergy Black River, located on Fort Drum, has 60 megawatts of generation capacity and produces around 422,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, which is enough power for more than 50,000 homes. To generate this level of power, the facility used to burn coal for its electricity; but since November of 2014 ReEnergy has invested more than $34 million in renovations to develop green-energy production for power. That project, a 20-year, renewable energy supply agreement, assures ReEnergy will supply 100 percent of Fort Drum’s electrical load.

                That’s the biggest renewable energy project in United States Army history.

                In Massena, Curran Renewable Energy has since 2009 utilized bioenergy from forest cuttings, agricultural waste and other organic material to produce fuel for heating, cooling, electricity and fuel. The company buys its feedstock from its sister corporation, Seaway Timber Harvesting.

                Philadelphia’s Indian River Central School District in 2016 purchased a 2,112-panel, 68-megawatt array to completely power Indian River Intermediate School.

                The town of Malone, along with the North Country Library System, is estimated to generate 223,586 kWh of power annually with a new solar array. That’s equal to taking 25 cars off the road entirely.

                Maple Ridge Wind Farm on Tug Hill is the state’s biggest wind farm. With 195 wind turbines, the farm at full capacity has an output of 322 megawatts. That’s enough to completely power 140,000 New York homes every year. And despite reports of mixed reviews from the wind farm’s neighbors, installation of the turbines brought $55 million into the local economy through the purchase of materials; and produced more than 400 construction jobs and almost 35 full-time, local positions. The combined income for landowners with turbines on their properties totals more than $1 million annually; with millions distributed as tax payments to schools, municipalities, and counties involved.

                North from Maple Ridge Wind Farm is the Number Three Wind Farm, in development now by Invenergy in Lewis County; and the proposed Copenhagen Wind Farm. Projects like these would put New York state well on the way to meeting Gov. Cuomo’s goal of the state meeting a full 50 percent of its energy needs with renewables.

                A ground-mounted, $7.6-million solar array was begun last October at BOCES’ Watertown campus to provide 2.5 megawatts of energy to lower power bills by about 40 percent for taxpayers in municipalities throughout Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.

                The Adirondack North Country Association in 2016 received funding from the Conservation Fund and CSX Transportation to purchase equipment and supplies for a solar-powered, refrigerated truck that will transport food in a farm-to-fork cooperative kitchen from independent farms and producers to communities throughout Northern New York. The funding, part of the Transporting Healthy Food grant, allows producers to increase revenue by expanding delivery radiuses while bringing healthy, local food to consumers.

                The North Country Regional Sustainability Plan, produced as part of the statewide “Cleaner Green Communities” initiative created by Gov. Cuomo and called “Our Economy,” details initiatives drawing on leadership from a seven-county consortium. With help from the Adirondack North Country Association, Ecology and Environment, and hundreds of participants across the region, “Our Economy” outlines the entire north country’s vision for a more sustainable, environmentally viable future.

                Sections of the report address subjects like energy, water and transportation and include plans like removing the burden on schools to pay for unsustainable (financially and environmentally) oil heat and instead invest in renewable, wood-based biofuels.

                “Our Economy” also maintains that the north country could easily position itself as New York state’s greenest energy economy. Echoing the sentiments of business owners and politicians, the report claims it would be more cost-effective to pay for the installation of renewable energy systems to power municipalities throughout the state than to make necessary upgrades to existing, unsustainable power grids.

                And last month, New York City hit a milestone when residents and businesses surpassed generation of more than 100 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable solar power, according to an announcement from Con Edison. Con Edison customers there have completed 9,700 projects totaling 101.2 MW. That’s enough to power more than 15,000 homes.

THE MACRO STRENGTH OF MICROGRIDS

But there’s another use for renewable energy that has only just begun to get real attention; and that’s the potential for “microgrids”—small, centralized sources of electricity capable of functioning independently for a small network of users—to power clusters of homes, businesses and municipalities, while additionally providing energy during natural disasters like ice storms.

                “Unfortunately, most of what you read is an anti-wind position,” said Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Industrial Agency (JCIDA). “But really, that is a very small part of what we are proposing to do in the energy sector. We see two major development areas for the economy: valuated agriculture, and alternative energies. Mother Nature was really kind to give us some really wonderful, natural attributes to produce energy: hydro, biomass, photovoltaic, wind and geothermal.”

                From Mr. Alexander’s perspective, this region is in a unique position to produce its own energy and to sell it elsewhere; like to cities downstate.

                “There is huge potential for this area to produce energy and bring it to places that need it,” he said. “For example, the north country could produce power that’s sold to New York City. We are in a very enviable position to be able to generate a good deal of this type of very sought-after energy now. The old, hydrocarbon industry—the coal, the oil—has been polluting the environment for a very long time. And people have been saying that in order to protect what we have, we have to do something different. Picking up the slack, we believe, will be alternative energy.”

                Mr. Alexander points to renewable energy efforts throughout New York State to bolster what he believes will be a game-changer for the North Country.

                “The governor (Andrew Cuomo) is trying to revitalize the energy in New York state,” he said. “The reason he is doing it is because it has been estimated that to improve the infrastructure for us to maintain our current energy system, we would have to expend more than $100 billion in order to upgrade. Frankly, you and I would pay for that through rate structures that utilities would have to charge.”

                The alternative to upgrading outdated systems could be micro generation, or “micro-grid” generation, in which energy is produced on-site and distributed to customers. The prospect of cheap, renewable resources at home encouraged Mr. Alexander and others more than a decade ago to start dreaming up plans for a microgrid in Watertown.

                “At one point, we moved from computers that went to a big mainframe,” Mr. Alexander said. “And now, you have small computers that stand on their own. We’re doing the same now with power. We generate locally, we distribute locally, and we eliminate the need to upgrade our old system. Instead of paying someone in the Middle East to take the oil out of the ground… why don’t we pay someone in Jefferson County to produce energy?”

NNY BUSINESSES KNOW: THERE’S NO PROFIT WITHOUT RISK

What Davidson Automotive has produced with its extensive solar arrays is essentially a series of individualized microgrids. Building solar fields that connect to roof-mounted systems and power multiple buildings (dealerships, car washes and collision centers) is a microcosm of what municipalities are now looking to do for clusters of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals.

                “Obviously,” Mr. Davidson said, “the cost-benefit of producing your energy from the sun versus National Grid was substantial. So that led us to doing it on all 11 of our buildings. After the first two, which was new construction, we liked the idea and it was working and generating power. So we added it to all our buildings.”

                But wasn’t it scary? Who drops millions of dollars on solar panels without any knowledge of how well they might work?

                 “The first one, obviously was just a venture we knew nothing about,” Mr. Davidson said. “The conversation made sense. The financial benefits made sense, over time, once you paid for it. So by having a couple in the beginning; that allowed us to know that it worked. Our original installations will have paid for themselves by 2020. Without question, it was a little intimidating at first. But energy costs are just going to keep coming up. Renewable energy is worth the investment.”

RENEWABLE ENERGY FEEDS BUSINESS OWNERS’ PASSIONS

For most successful people, their business grows from a national passion. “Do what you love,” they say, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

                So it goes for High Peaks Solar’s lead system designer, Kevin Bailey. “I was lucky,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do when I got out of college, and that was somehow working in solar. I took some classes at SUNY Albany, and thought it would be a great field to get into. Not really knowing where to start or having a technical background, I saw an ad for this thing called SolarFest in Vermont. It was a 100 percent renewably powered music festival. So, I went up there and met a man who lives off the grid and had been working in solar for 20 years already. He offered me an unpaid internship. I took it and worked up there in building off-grid solar systems for cabins. I eventually got a technical degree from a community college, and filed my business.”

                Mr. Bailey said the Davidson Automotive project is High Peak Solar’s biggest undertaking to date—and, he surmises, probably one of the largest privately owned facilities in the state. “We did it in pieces,” Bailey said, “because NYSERDA’s [New York State Energy Research and Development] program changed and allowed for larger sizes to be incentivized. We started by doing a system on the roof; then, when [NYSERDA] expanded the systems, we did the ground mount system out back. It was about a four-year process.”

                But how efficient are solar panels today? Can they meet electricity needs 100 percent of the time?

                “It’s a sharing thing with the grid,” Mr. Bailey explained. “It [solar] puts power into the grid at times, and the buildings take power from the grid at other times. During summer stretches, those systems are probably producing three or four times the power being consumed. Most people who have the grid don’t do storage. In a few cases our customers have opted for it, and we do offer that, but storage batteries are still relatively expensive. In most situations, the grid actually acts as your battery.”

                To showcase the different options available to customers, High Peaks Solar has a showroom set up in Wynantskill, N.Y. displaying some of the newest photovoltaic technology on the market. That includes inverters, charge controllers, solar modules and mounting options. The company’s technicians have done PV installation work in New York, Vermont, Haiti, Tanzania, and Colorado, and they’re so serious about renewable energy they even use 99 percent biodiesel made from used cooking oil as much as possible in company vehicles.

NOT JUST FOR PROFIT, BUSINESSES CAN USE RENEWABLES TO GIVE BACK

Some businesses don’t stop at profit margins gleaned from renewable resources. Instead, they’re finding ways to give back that utilize the same green endeavors that have made them money. Case in point: High Peaks’ Mr. Bailey, who in 2006 started The Sky Is Not Limited. That non-profit brings clean water to at-need communities by utilizing renewable energies to power water projects.

                The premise for The Sky Is Not Limited is simple: Mr. Bailey’s well aware that 1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean or running water. So his organization has since 2011 donated about a dozen deep, solar-powered wells with five more planned in 2017 to the Mkuranga district of Tanzania in a partnership with the African Reflections Foundation. The wells offer fresh, clean water to entire villages that include schools.

SMALL SYSTEMS CAN PACK THE BIGGEST PUNCH

From Mr. Alexander’s vantage point, investments by municipalities, businesses and residences in renewable energy are one-time payments for what will be long-term, (virtually) free usage.

                “Once we build the plants to take advantage of these hydros and biomasses,” he said, “the cost of the energy material is free. Our agency has been looking at this since 2004, and we’ve been examining the whole market about how to develop this. We have done a great deal of homework.”

                Part of that “homework” included a 2006 “regional scoping analysis” of things like energy requirements for and capacity of a microgrid at the Jefferson County Corporate Park off outer Coffeen Street in Watertown. “From that scoping analysis,” Alexander said, “we began to develop a strategy. Four or five years ago, we hired Arcadia to help us develop the first microgrid to be used at our corporate park. It is just about ready! We will distribute this locally, reduce costs, stabilize the supply of energy—there’s no worry about hurricanes or ice storms—and  have backup systems in place so if one element fails there is backup. This could include solar photovoltaic, wind, or geothermal.”

                That microgrid is set to offer power to Jefferson Community College and the town of Watertown’s Fire District Station 3, in addition to local businesses including North American Tapes, Car-Freshner, Timeless Frames, Allied Motion and Henderson Manufacturing.

                “The financing is developed, but it will probably be a couple of years by the time we sort out all the sources of generation, the infrastructure, and underground power lines connecting all of these entities,” Mr. Alexander said. The plans, he added, will continue regardless of legislation or disagreements in political circles.

                “We will continue to do this,” he said. “No matter what anyone in Washington says, we are so dependent on the Middle East for power. God knows what will continue happening there, but we can be sure of continued risks to relying on tenuous energy agreements. Additionally, the global environment is only going to get worse if we don’t change. As a very practical matter, why would I want to send my money overseas for energy instead of paying someone in New York for these utilities?”

                “The substation on Coffeen Street, which is owned by National Grid, has some problems. And it needs to be upgraded. It is sending intermittent—I’ll call them pulses—energy stops for moments here and there, in ways you never see, but they’re momentary interruptions that stop their equipment. And it takes, say, $1,000 to $2,000 to restart it. And this happens frequently! These are things we are all paying for in our energy bills. The microgrid eliminates that, because energy is being generated right at the grid,” Mr. Alexander said.

THINKING OF TAKING THE PLUNGE?

For businesses considering the renewables market, Mr. Bailey said the main consideration should be how long you’ll be in the building you’re in now. “You have to want to be in the place for a while—don’t move in couple of years! This is an investment in your business’ future.”

                Starting costs for renewable-energy systems can be as modest as $5,000 for a small installation. “The one thing that always stays constant is that if you use energy efficiently, you’ll require less,” he said. “As soon as you flip the switch, you’re supplementing grid power. So it’s pretty much an instant savings. The up-front investment is money you’re going to spend over time anyway. So in this case you’re just kind of pre-buying your energy.”

                Part of the incentive of going with renewable energies are the tax incentives available to people buying the equipment. “A tax-paying business or individual can get a system cost down very low by getting tax credits,” Bailey said. “They are the key to making the economics work. Incentives are still available, and will be for another two or three years before they’re scheduled to expire.”

                In addition to taking advantage of those tax breaks, businesses investing in renewables enjoy a plethora of other benefits. Those include everything from a positive reputation and higher consumer demand to tremendous cost savings with lower energy bills. For a giant example of that, look at chemical company DuPont. That business saved more than $3 billion over the course of 20 years by reducing carbon emissions and capping energy spending.

                “Renewable energy is becoming more mainstream and people most definitely recognize it,” said Fourth Coast’s Mr. Campany. “Like anything, any good business owner is skeptical of anything new and they want to make sure it’s a valid technology. And in the last few years, renewable energy has gained a lot of credibility. Business owners are switching over now more than ever. All installers can tap into NYSERDA credits if they pay into the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).”

                For those who don’t know, on every National Grid bill sent to customers, there is an RPS item line. “What that is,” Mr. Campany said, “is money is collected by National Grid and redistributed to people who want to undertake renewable energy projects.” In other words, your installer can help you tap into that money, which would be used to offset costs of setting up renewable-energy systems at your business or home.

                “Any good business owner is going to look at the economics,” Mr. Campany said. “You can fix your energy costs from year to year so you’re not guessing at what your cost of electricity is going to be. And certainly, businesses should strive to be responsible from an environmental standpoint and feel responsible for helping to minimize fossil fuel use. Most business owners are very conscientious. And oftentimes, explaining the economics gives them what they need to move forward. The reality is, with these incentives and credits most commercial and residential systems pay for themselves in less than 10 years.”

RENEWABLES ARE A WIN-WIN FOR NEW YORK BUSINESSES

Mr. Davidson of Davidson Automotive said he sees switching to renewable energies as a win-win for Northern New York businesses. He noted that in addition to attracting customers by being “green,” companies could bring energy costs down to what is essentially net-zero once the renewable installation has paid for itself.

                “If the panels don’t last or there are a lot of repairs, we could experience a different result,” he said. “But even if the panels diminish each year in productivity, systems will still pay for themselves. Energy costs are just going to keep going up. There are still a lot of unknowns. But I can say that our systems are definitely producing energy, and producing exactly what they told us it would produce.”

                Whether for reasons related to cost, reputation or ethics, renewable energy is a boon to New York businesses—and for business heads like Mr. Davidson, seeing green comes, at its most basic, with a big return on investment.