Dan Sabia is a teacher at heart.
Sabia, president of Built Well Solar in Bellmore, said he sees his mission as not only to only enlighten customers, but also to speak to elementary school students, to folks at street fairs, and to the Solar Decathlon team -- which he also sponsors -- at his alma mater, New York Institute of Technology.
"The point is always about educating," he said.
There are about 5,400 solar power installations on Long Island, and 80 percent of those are residential, according to Michael Deering, vice president of environmental affairs at LIPA. He said 80 percent were installed in the past four years. With the approval on June 28 of LIPA's Clean Solar Initiative, those numbers are expected to grow, he said.
A first responder after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Sabia said it was then that he realized the importance of decreasing our dependence on foreign energy. He decided to learn more.
"First I installed it on my house," he said. "Then I did it for five, six friends. Then I said, 'Well, I guess I am in the business.' "
In 2007 and still working part time as facilities manager with the Carle Place School District, he convinced the district it should go solar. It was the first district on Long Island to install such a large scale system to power schools. Another company did the work so that Sabia avoided any conflict of interest.
"That generation will be immersed in it," Sabia said. "Solar panels will be as commonplace to them as electric lines are to ours."
Do most people install solar power because of idealism or money?
It's a little bit of both. Obviously, the savings are the icing on the cake, but I think that for most people it's idealistic.
What's your biggest challenge?
It's getting people to forget about all of the myths that are out there and take a fresh look at solar energy and understand what it is today.
How is Long Island as a locale for a solar business?
Long Island is a perfect location for solar energy. One, we have the second-highest utilities rates in the country. Second, we average 4.6 hours of sunlight a day. Put that together and we can save a home $300 a month.
How has the economy affected solar sales?
It's actually helped to a point because people are thinking about how to get the most for their dollar.
What's the most fun?
Educating the youngsters. We just gave a class to sixth-graders and it is amazing how much they understand. When they grow up and buy a home, solar energy will just be an automatic.
What's ahead for Built Well?
You want to be able to have that personal touch. To teach, to have your finger on the pulse of the business. I don't ever want to get so big that the business runs me.
What he does: Install solar power systems on Long Island homes, schools and businesses.
Employees: Six during the winter months; 18 April through November.
Roles they play: licensed electricians, permit expediters, engineers, installers, plumbers and office staff.
Sales: $1.2 million