Solar panels on the roof of the Island Harvest building...

Solar panels on the roof of the Island Harvest building in Melville on Jan. 22. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Island Harvest on Monday threw the switch on a rooftop solar array donated by installer SUNation Solar that will cut the food bank’s yearly energy costs by $63,000, officials said.

At a ceremony in Melville to mark the event, Island Harvest president and chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner said the savings will allow the food bank to distribute 120,000 more meals each year, while rescuing 963 solar panels that were destined for a landfill.

“It’s about energy savings and it’s about reinvesting in our mission” of ending hunger on Long Island, she said.

Scott Maskin, co-founder of SUNation and a board member of SUNation owner Pineapple Energy, said the idea for the project jelled after his company salvaged about 4,000 solar panels from a Long Island building that was being demolished.

Most of the panels went to the Shinnecock Indian Nation, where they await funds to fully deploy them into a community solar facility. But Island Harvest, with a new building, was able to take 963 modules after replacing the roof of its new facility in Melville.

The nonprofit worked closely with LIPA and contractor PSEG Long Island to link the 303.5-kilowatt system to the grid. LIPA awarded $40,000 to complete the project and PSEG worked to help connect it.

PSEG interim president Dave Lyons, noting hundreds of the utility’s workers volunteer at Island Harvest, said projects like the solar system also help reduce overall demand on the grid, while letting the food bank devote more of its budget to feeding families.

LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone said in a statement, “We are working to make clean energy accessible, reduce our carbon footprint, and help provide programs and services so critical to those in need here on Long Island.”

While the solar panels were free, installation of the panels and other systems cost the food bank $432,672, with most of the work done by SUNation last summer.

Dresner said the facility has a new roof and worked with the utility to install energy-saving lighting and refrigeration equipment to lower costs even more.

The facility has been operational for two months and saved $11,000 in that period, Dresner said.

Maskin predicted the solar system will pay for itself in less than five years, but that payback will be even sooner if Island Harvest qualifies for a new federal tax-credit program as part of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which could see a tax credit for nonprofits of around $130,000.

The project comes at a precarious time for the solar business, which has been hit hard by rising interest rates and soaring material and labor costs. Last month, EmPower Solar, one of the region’s largest solar companies, laid off 40% of its work force, about 21 workers, after a year of slowing sales.

Maskin, who in 2022 sold the company he cofounded to Pineapple Energy, noted inflation and interest rate concerns have “really, really slowed solar, both residential and commercial” over the past year. Pineapple’s stock price has fallen from just over $3 in November 2022 to 50 cents on Monday.

A possible business uptick this year could be helped by moderating interest rates and large projects such as Island Harvest’s installation, which took 15 workers around one month to install. Maskin said nonprofits, which previously couldn’t take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for green-energy projects such as solar, could become one of the bright spots for business this year.

Island Harvest solar install by the numbers:

Solar panels: 963

Cost to install: $432,672

Possible federal tax credit: $130,000

Annual energy cost savings: $63,000

Total meals that savings could provide: 120,000

System’s annual production: 389,588 kilowatt-hours

Source: SUNation

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