Bay Shore businessman chooses solar over wind power

Roger Jette, president and founder of Snake Tray

Roger Jette, president and founder of Snake Tray Co., is shown among the dozens of solar panels installed on the roof of the Snake Tray manufacturing facility in Bay Shore. (July 21, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

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Roger Jette pictured a windmill spinning over his Bay Shore factory: It would cut his costs and allow him to keep his business - and its jobs - on Long Island. He worked with the Town of Islip to develop a groundbreaking code for industrial-zone turbines. He commissioned a site plan for a 156-foot tower.

And then he changed his mind.

Solar, he said, is a better fit.

"On a sunny day, we'll be able to be off the grid entirely," said Jette, 58, whose business, Snake Tray, designs systems for organizing cables in office spaces.

 

Solar, wind, solar . . .

He said when he began considering alterative energy sources, he initially favored solar, "then went to wind, then came back to solar. We have a large building with a flat roof. This just happened to work out perfect."

The mottled blue panels atop his factory roof came online last week.

As municipalities, school districts, businesses and homeowners across Long Island consider adopting wind power and other renewable energy sources, Jette's experience illustrates that finding a good match can take a little legwork. And, renewable energy experts say, for this region solar is still the most widely applicable, provided a property has shade-free space.

Jette began looking at alternative energy sources two years ago, after the state of Georgia asked him to relocate his factory there. State officials offered him land, architects to design his building, tax breaks and $5,000 for every Georgian he hired.

 

Saying no to the South

Instead, he decided to stay here and put up a wind turbine. That way, he said, he could cut his costs and stay in the place that he and his workers love.

Islip, in September 2008, became the first Long Island town to adopt standards for small wind turbines in suburban backyards. Jette worked with the town to include industrial properties, too, more than doubling the height allowance from the 45-foot residential setting.

"Roger was our first industrial applicant," said Dave Genaway, deputy commissioner of planning. "It's precisely the Roger Jette application that we wanted to make such a huge legislative leap. In the face of skyrocketing energy costs . . . if there are alternatives we could help promote, we want to do that."

Jette planned to squeeze a sleek, white Northwind 100 into the parking lot next to his factory, in an industrial zone near the Sagtikos State Parkway. Poised to catch southwest winds from the bay, it was expected to generate more than 100,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power the entire factory.

But, even as Jette needed to get the turbine up and running by Dec. 31 to take advantage of tax credits, he encountered obstacles over the location of the property line and the number of parking spaces required.

So he ordered solar panels.

"We just needed to have them on site" by the deadline, he said, not operational.

As it turns out, solar has allowed him to do things wind could not.

First, he was able to design and build the system in-house. And as he did so, he developed two new products: a stainless steel rack for solar panels, weighted down by concrete blocks, and a snaking steel cage for keeping electrical cables secure as they run across the roof.

The 200-acre solar farm planned at Brookhaven National Laboratory will be his first Solar Snake Tray customer.

And as a result, he said, he's hired three new employees.

Though the solar array is anticipated to produce slightly less energy than the turbine would have, he expects it to eliminate his $60,000 annual electric bill. And, while the windmill would have generated the most juice during the winter, his solar system will work at maximum capacity during the peak-use summer months, taking his factory off the grid when it's under the most strain.

He also is in talks with three universities and the school his daughters attend in Brightwaters, St. Peters by the Sea Episcopal Day School, to use it as a teaching laboratory.

"It's a win-win-win," he said, looking over his half-acre array on a blazing afternoon. "If a little, tiny company like us can do it, there will be a lot more. You can really change the face of the world."

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