NORWAY — While these guys love “bright, sunshiny days,” they won’t let gray skies keep them down, either.

Solar and renewable energy advocates Fred Garbo of Norway and Shawn Kane of Otisfield recently went into business together, launching Garbo-Kane Integrated Solar Builders to help residents of Oxford Hills and beyond harness the power of the sun.

Both men utilize a solar tracker to power their respective homes and the electric car that both of them drive — the Nissan Leaf.

A solar tracker is exactly what is sounds like — an array of solar panels that follows the sun to garner as much energy as possible throughout the day. The panels are mounted on a mast that moves 6 inches every eight minutes, Garbo said. And it only uses 1 percent of the energy it produces to turn itself, Kane added.

“We’re trying to walk the walk and talk the talk,” Garbo said. “I’ve been doing it for three years and I’ve been saving money and helping the environment.”

The pair attended solar tracker school in Vermont in May for a couple of days, learning how the machinery works and how to put it together, in addition to becoming factory-certified installation technicians.

“It’s tried and true, Garbo said. “There’s over 3,000 trackers up in Vermont where they’re made since 2006.”

He talked about net metering, where the solar tracker sends electricity to the grid if it’s not being utilized, which gives the user a credit bank to cash in during the winter months or days when the sun isn’t shining.

“Every sunny day, there’s a wonderful feeling that you’re making something,” Garbo said. “It’s a local, sustainable resource. (And clients) won’t have to shovel off the panels in the winter because the tracker sheds snow.”

Other benefits of the solar tracker include not having to install panels and cut holes in the roof, and this moving tracking system garners more energy. The pair estimated the solar tracker produces 30 to 40 percent more energy than roof- or ground-mounted arrays.

Their quest for solar and renewable energy began four winters ago when Garbo and Kane first met at a timber frame-raising party at Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway. Kane was living in an off-the-grid camp in Otisfield at the time, when he met Scott and Zizi Vlaun. This is how Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in Norway was founded and Garbo later joined as advisory board member.

“We’ve been friends ever since.  . . . It seemed like a natural progression of sustainability,” Kane said about their solar business. “When we saw Revision Energy trucks going by and doing installations around here, we were like, ‘Wow, that would be fun to do. But do we want to drive to Portland to hop in their trucks and drive all over the state? Or do we want to make some sort of impact here locally?’ That’s when we decided to start our own.”

Their first clients were Mike and Stacey Tibbetts, who had them install a solar tracker on their farm in West Paris. It took them three days to build the solar tracker this summer. If the couple had a roof array, it would have needed 36 panels for 9 kilowatts of power. But instead, the solar tracker only used 24 panels for the same amount of power.

They will save roughly $1,800 a year in energy costs they don’t have to pay to Central Maine Power, and it will take between six and seven years to pay for the tracker, Kane said.

Using estimates from Revision Energy — the company that installed Garbo’s solar tracker on the land of his neighbor, Rick Morse — a 3-kilowatt array, which will only offset some of a household’s energy consumption, costs around $11,000, whereas 4 to 5 kilowatts for an average-size home ranges between $15,000 and $20,000.

Their solar trackers range between $29,000 and $35,000, but there is a federal tax credit available through the end of 2016 that will pay for 30 percent of the project. Garbo said his tracker cost about $30,000 total, but he’s only paying $21,000 out of pocket and can roll over his tax credit from year to year.

Garbo and Kane didn’t want people to balk at the price tag and said it’s a balancing act since they know the ins and outs of the solar industry. They talked about grid parity, which means the solar and renewable energy produces the same amount of power as traditionally produced electricity for an equal or lesser cost.  

“The cost of installing solar is equal or less than grid power,” Kane said, noting solar tracker owners will save three times as much money over the guaranteed 25-year life span compared to their traditional energy-using counterparts. The panels will work for 35 to 50 years, but they produce less energy as they age. He added industry experts estimate electricity rates will continue to climb between 3 and 3.5 percent each year.

“It’s really an investment in solar as an appliance and you’re going to reap the benefits over 25 years,” Garbo said. “What other thing can you buy nowadays that can do that?”

The team is looking for businesses that want to sign on to the solar revolution, which can be written off as an expense. The duo is in search of a host for a community solar farm, because not all of their clients have ideal spaces for solar power. They’re also eyeing retrofitting golf carts to turn them into solar-powered generators, as Garbo and Kane have done for Garbo’s other electric vehicle, which he hasn’t plugged in for two years.

“It’s another aspect of integrating solar into our daily lives,” Kane said.

For more information about Garbo-Kane Integrated Solar Builders, visit www.garbokane.com or Facebook.com and search for the company’s name.

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