Fewer Taxes for Businesses Investing in Solar

By Matt Porter

January 3, 2013 Updated Jan 3, 2013 at 10:45 PM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Wes Ernsberger helped his church become solar powered two years ago.

Using the computer, he can see in real time the energy generated by the solar cells on the roof of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Binghamton.

"Our overall carbon footprint is going down each year," said Ernsberger, "Our ultimate goal is to become what we call 'carbon neutral' where we're not making the planet any worse."

Ernsberger used a federal grant install the panels at little cost in 2010.

Now, other businesses can install panels in New York tax free thanks to a state law that took effect on January 1.

The law eliminates the state sales tax for solar power systems, and also has provisions to eliminate some county taxes as well.

Ernsberger said the cells are so good in the summer, they help pay for electricity in the winter.

"We have an excess of electricity and so that gets shipped out over the grid," he said, "And we receive a credit on that in our bill."

C. Roger Westgate, a professor at Binghamton University and director of the Center for Autonomous Solar Power, said bringing down costs through government incentives is key for the emerging technology.

"It becomes more economical," said Westgate, "And the payback period after the initial cost is much shorter when you have substantial federal and state incentives."

Westgate said solar power systems have dropped in price by almost half from $6 to $3 per watt generated.

He said the average small power system generates 1,000 watts.

"The efficiency is growing slowly," Westgate said, "But the cost is dropping dramatically."

Together with government incentives, he said small systems could pay for themselves in five to ten years instead of 15 to 20.