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Solarize Tompkins finds success in solar power, shifting focus to alternative heating options

Solarize Tompkins

Hundreds of central New Yorkers have jumped on the solar power bandwagon. Now Solarize Tompkins, the most successful program getting property owners to go solar, is looking ahead to other alternative energy sources for homeowners looking to break from fossil fuels.

More than 1,300 families in the Ithaca area signed up to receive information about solar technology and 400 homeowners decided to install solar PV systems that make electricity since the Solarize Tompkins program started in June, according to program director Melissa Kemp.

"It’s just because solar has become so much more affordable than it used to be across wide demographics that never used to even think about it,” Kemp said.

She says it was just a matter of letting people know how affordable it had actually become.

“Now it’s something you don’t have to put money down if you don’t want to," Kemp explained. "It doesn’t have to cost you more per month than what you were doing for conventional fossil fuel electricity, so it’s a radically different value proposition to people than it used to be.”

Solarize Tompkins will oversee completion of these systems, but then let the marketplace take over. Kemp says that’s when Solarize Tompkins hopes to change its focus from solar energy to other kinds of renewable heating technologies.

“The most prominent ones that are discussed are ground heat source pumps and air source heat pumps," Kemp said. "Also pellet boilers and furnaces can almost be considered.”

She says some renewable home heating systems are actually cheaper than more traditional heating options.

“If you’re building a new home, for example, and if you compare doing a conventional propane or oil or methane boiler furnace to doing a heat pump system, you can actually pay less than you would pay to make this change," Kemp explained. "So your monthly payment comes out typically, we’re seeing as we model numbers for this potential program, $20 a month less to go the renewable way than to stay with conventional fossil fuels.”

Kemp says this is also a good time to look at alternative energy sources, because New York state is moving toward a goal of reducing 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. She expects using the same public education strategies that made solar such a success will help homeowners realize boilers run on fossil fuels aren’t the only way to heat a home.

"There are alternatives," Kemp said. "They are effective. They are affordable. They are accessible, and it’s a lot about comfortability and changing the business status quo to actually take these things into account as a possibility."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.