Warmth of the sun

The 96 solar panels installed at J's Maintenance in La Crescenta are expected to generate about 80% of the company's energy, officials said.

The panels should save the company $7,000 to $8,000 in its first year, said J's Maintenance General Manager Chris Waldheim. Annual electricity costs for the company have totaled $10,000, he added.

About $65,000 in government incentives is expected to go toward the $135,000 project. Solar tubes installed several years ago in the ceiling, which allow natural light to filter into some of the building's rooms, was Waldheim's company's first step in going green.

Waldheim began researching and interviewing potential solar providers in June 2009. His idea to begin the project stemmed from a desire to reduce his company's carbon footprint and use a cleaner source of power, said Philippe Hartley, general manager of La Crescenta-based PHAT Energy, which installed the system.

Waldheim chose PHAT Energy in part for its location — most of the solar companies interviewed were in different counties, and he said he was uncomfortable with the distance company representatives would have to travel if they had to come out to the field.

"We wanted to make sure that [what] we did was to be considered on our own merit, not because we're part of the community," Hartley said. "We gave a proposal, and they liked it. It came down to two companies, and we were fortunate to get the business."

For Hartley, the J's Maintenance solar project is a first step to touting the benefits of solar energy. He feels the United States is "retooling" itself, and is on the cusp of a switch to cleaner and environmentally friendlier energies.

"Part of our joint responsibility is to tell this story, to propagate the benefits of what has happened here, not just by living it, but also by explaining it, by pointing to it, by making it accessible to other people," Hartley said.

By partnering with community-oriented companies like J's Maintenance, Hartley said he hopes he will be able to bring the benefits of solar energy to the community. Moreover, the power J's Maintenance does not use is fed back directly into the grid for use by other homes or businesses in the community, he added.

The new system was introduced during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 17. At its peak, the system operates at 20 kilowatts per hour, Waldheim said, with about an average of 5.5 hours each day of peak solar effectiveness. That's a total of about 110 kilowatts per day, even with clouds in the sky, he said.

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