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Federal grant will help group homes save on electricity

People don't usually think their houses can generate electricity for sale, but that's what several Suffolk homes for the disabled might be able to do with the help of a federal grant.

Options for Community Living Inc., a Smithtown-based nonprofit that owns and runs 140 homes for the disabled on Long Island, got $198,395 to retrofit five homes with energy-saving measures and install solar panels at three of them, two in Huntington Station and one in Port Jefferson Station. The houses are three-bedroom, single-family homes, built as early as 1934.

The energy efficiencies, from central air to on-demand hot water heaters, are expected to reduce electricity consumption by 49 percent, said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which gave the grant.

Those savings and the use of solar power might generate more juice than the families use, virtually eliminating "purchased electricity" and allowing the nonprofit to sell the extra power to the grid, federal officials said.

“It’ll pay for the electric,” Diana Arens, the nonprofit’s executive director. “It’s thousands of dollars a year and a lot of years . . . and that’s just the electric. So it’s wonderful. It makes a big difference.”

For example, one of the Huntington Station homes has an annual electricity bill of $912, but about $990 in power is expected to be generated by solar energy, Arens said.

At the other Huntington Station home, the annual bill runs about $8,887 and the solar energy will cover about $5,314, but that does not factor in savings expected from all the other energy-efficient changes, Arens said.

The money is part of the Green Retrofit Program for multifamily housing under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was aimed at creating green jobs, among others.

"This funding will not only improve the quality of life for the residents of OCL II Properties, Inc., but will lower energy costs and create quality green jobs at the same time," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "This is an example of the kind of long-term, fundamental impact the Recovery Act is having on America's economy through clean energy investments."

After the solar panels have been in use for a little while, Arens said, energy consumption, costs and savings will be documented for federal officials: “They want to know they have an impact.”

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