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Family of Oceanside veteran gets free solar-energy system

Eileen Howell gets a hug from a Patriot

Eileen Howell gets a hug from a Patriot Guard Rider while holding her son Liam, 3, and Thomas, 10, on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. Howell, wife of Oceanside veteran Thomas Howell III, and her family received a free solar-energy system that was donated by the nonprofit SUNation Cares, a group affiliated with SUNation Solar in Ronkonkoma. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams

The family of an Oceanside veteran who died this year after suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder received a free solar-energy system this month from a Ronkonkoma firm that donates repurposed panels to families in need.

The system, enough to provide all the energy the home uses, was a donation to the family of Thomas Howell III, who took his own life in February after returning from tours of the Middle East in the Marine’s 6th Communications Division.

His wife, Eileen Howell, an NYPD officer, said the system will go a long way toward reducing home expenses. She previously had an electric bill of $300 a month. The new system will lower it to a service charge of around $13.

“It’s completely overwhelming and humbling,” Howell said through tears at a Veterans Day ceremony Friday near her home.

The system was donated by the nonprofit SUNation Cares, a group affiliated with SUNation Solar in Ronkonkoma, which installed the system from panels from customers who’ve upgraded to newer systems, said Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation.

Maskin said it took some work to convince Howell that his offer of a free system was legitimate. She’d previously received numerous sales calls from solar companies offering free or cheap systems, and she wasn’t buying it.

“I hung up multiple times,” said Howell, who cares for the couple’s three sons, Thomas, 10, Charlie, 6 and Liam, 3.

Thomas Howell’s 11 years in the Middle East included tours in places including Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan. He worked for the Long Island Rail Road upon his return. Eileen Howell said.

While most of the 54 panels are repurposed, SUNation Cares provided all new electronics and wiring for the system, as well as the labor to install it over two days. PSEG Long Island expedited the approval process to have the system up and running by Veterans Day, Mike Bailis, vice president and co-founder of SUNation said.

The ceremony Friday at the Howell’s Oceanside home was attended by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and state Sens. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).


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