By: Jane C Simons

One St. Joseph, Michigan funeral home is turning to the sun to supply a portion of its electricity.

With a 208-panel, 52-kilowatt photovoltaic solar system installed on its roof, Starks Family Funeral Homes & Cremation Services LLC can now harvest solar energy to help offset the electrical load from its operations.

The array is sized to generate more than 50 percent of the electricity used by the company over the year, although it will likely generate more than the building uses in the summer, sources said. The energy produced by the system will result in solar production credits being applied directly to Starks’ electrical bills. Visitors can monitor the amount of solar energy being produced via a display in the funeral home’s lobby.

“People are learning more and more about why solar works in Michigan,” said Roz Linsea, vice president at Solar Winds Power Systems LLC that designed and installed the array. “They are interested in a better return on their investment and reducing their carbon footprint.”

The average solar array could start at $15,000 and increase in price from there depending on the number of panels required, said Linsea, who was responsible for creating and administering the project. Energy credits help reduce that price, and once the yearly savings kick in, clients find that the arrays pay for themselves, she said.

“The return on investment is well over 10 percent,” Linsea said. “Grant money comes and goes, but there is a 30 percent federal tax rebate.”

Tom Stark, co-owner of the St. Joseph, Michigan-based funeral business, said he had been looking at ways to reduce the funeral home’s carbon footprint.

“Renewable energy is obviously tied very closely to environmental awareness,” Starks stated. “We have a passion for funeral service and at the same time, we’re trying to be as energy efficient as possible. Our goal is to be the greenest.”

The installation, which was completed earlier this year, is likely the first of its kind in the Midwest for a funeral home, said Mike Linsea, president of the family-owned Shelbyville-based Solar Winds Power Systems.

He said Starks’ efforts are helping pave the way for more uses of next-generation technology to produce clean energy. The company also made it a point to use all American-made solar panels by SolarWorld, as well as SMA America inverters and components.

“The solar project at their facility serves as a model to integrate renewable energy projects into operations for organizations around the state,” Mike Linsea said.

The amount of electricity generated by Starks’ solar panel array is equivalent to the electrical consumption of seven or eight homes in a year. The average home installation of a solar array normally includes about 20 solar panels, but commercial project installations range anywhere from 200 panels and above, Roz Linsea said.

Typically, the arrays last between 40 and 50 years, she added.

While renewables first came into the energy conversation during the 1970s, they slipped off the radar with different national policies in the 1980s, Roz Linsea said. But that’s been changing over the last decade or so.

“The growth of renewable energy has been slow,” she said. “For us, we just keep plugging away and advocating.”

With a lifelong interest in renewable energy that dated back to Mike Linsea’s college studies at the then-Grand Valley State College, the Linseas decided to open their own company in 2008 after seeing more people getting interested in renewables.

A number of renewable energy firms that started before renewables started gaining widespread acceptance ended up going out of business – or fell during the recession – but there is no doubt that a growing awareness of the potential impact of climate change has caused an increase in the price of goods and services that are dependent on traditional energy sources, Roz Linsea said.

“I think we have turned the corner and solar in Michigan may be coming of age sooner than later,” Mike Linsea said. “They have kicked the can down the road for decades, (but) now the cans bouncing back from the wall.”

Since launching, the company has installed more than 70 renewable energy installations.

“It’s been pretty much non-stop for the last year or two,” Roz Linsea said.

As people look for alternatives to traditional energy sources, solar power has emerged as an attractive and viable option – even in Michigan – that consumers are considering, she added.

“The sun will stay the same today as it will tomorrow,” Roz Linsea said. “People are seriously concerned about the cost of energy.”


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