The most populous state in the nation, California is also among the most progressive when it comes to implementing renewable energy initiatives. One such program is the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a statewide effort to install 3,000 megawatts of new, grid-connected solar capacity by 2016. The program provides $1.167 billion in rebates and cash incentives on solar systems to customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. These incentives, combined with federal tax incentives, significantly lower the total initial cost of a solar system.

Hawthorne Machinery Co. — which employs more than 850 people worldwide and provides sales, rentals, parts, and service to contractors — recently took advantage of these incentives and rebates by erecting a $1.27 million solar energy system at its 25-acre headquarters located in Rancho Bernardo.

Clear Skies Solar was chosen to perform the installation. Based in Mineola, N.Y., Clear Skies Solar is a developer of solar energy products and a full-service integration company specializing in the turnkey installation of commercial photovoltaic (PV) solar systems.

“We were fortunate that our client recognizes the future is in renewable energy and has had positive experiences with solar,” says Ezra Green, chairman and CEO of Clear Skies Solar.

Capable of powering 77 average-sized American homes, the PV solar system consists of 758 Kyocera 205-watt panels that will deliver 229,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to Green, this project was unique not only because the client was a construction company, but also because it required Clear Skies Solar to perform some minor engineering on the roof rafters. Furthermore, loads had to be calculated, and a custom-designed mounting system — which was able to span the truss joists so as not to have any significant load in between — had to be used. A team of four electricians, supervisors, and eight laborers completed the installation in just five weeks.

“This was a well-prepared job,” notes Green. “As always, we did our homework in advance so that any minor inconveniences, such as the preplanned core drilling, were taken into consideration before work began.”

Because Hawthorne Machinery financed the project, the company is eligible to receive the 30% tax credit offered by the federal government. Through a reduction in energy costs and government incentives, the initial investment will be recovered in approximately seven years.

“Out of the $1.27 million that the system cost them, Hawthorne will have a first year credit of $338,000,” adds Green. “That doesn't include the accelerated depreciation credits that will be available over the next five years. The company will also receive a feed-in tariff check each month from Southern California Edison, [the utility], for $0.26 per kilowatt hour for the next five years.”

In addition to the substantial energy savings and tax rebates, Green says the life of the system is anticipated to be approximately 25 to 30 years with little maintenance needed.

“Although the savings for Hawthorne are immediate, they will continue for many decades,” remarks Green. “There's no reason whatsoever these savings can't be passed down to the next generation of owners.”