Let the Sun Shine In

September 1, 2016
By Bette McDevitt

We often have guests at the Wednesday breakfast gathering of the Battle of Homestead Foundation (BHF). In the last few months, we have had a young woman researching the Jewish community in Homestead’s past; Thorsten Gresser, a school teacher who comes here every summer, from the former steelmaking area of Germany; Paul Laxton, a British labor historian who knows more about the Homestead Strike than anyone, except Charlie McCollester; and Mark Rylance, the Tony and Oscar award-winning actor who is writing a play about Carnegie and Frick. Where else would he go but to eat bacon and eggs with the BHF people?

Last week, we met Gregory Winks, the local representative for SolarCity, a sister company to Tesla, owned by cousins of Elon Musk, Tesla’s owner. Their business is solar panels – with a new twist.

The company does offer the traditional installation; the owner buys the panels from SolarCity, who will then install them. The outlay in that case is pretty steep, although you do get a 30% tax credit that comes right off your income tax payment. But SolarCity is the only company currently in our area to offer another way with no upfront costs; the company will install, own and maintain the solar panels on your roof, and they will insure your roof. You then will pay SolarCity for the energy generated from the solar system. In this case, SolarCity as the owner will receive the tax credit.

Greg said the homeowner will still be connected to the utility, as SolarCity is not installing battery storage at this moment. When solar energy cannot be generated, the homeowner will pull from the grid for their electrical consumption. Homeowners will receive two bills for their electricity, one from SolarCity and one from their utility. The objective is to replace as much of their utility’s fossil fuel-based, more expensive energy with SolarCity’s clean, less expensive solar energy. The benefits of solar energy for the homeowner only increases over time.

The installation, said Greg, takes one day, but the process will take longer; “The typical timeline from start to finish is approximately three to four months, but that can vary depending in which municipality and utility company the solar system is situated. Initially a homeowner will see a flurry of activity, with consultations, technical evaluations, system design, and customer approval. Then a period of what seems like inactivity happens, as we all wait for the municipality to approve the building permit and the utility company to approve the electrical grid interconnection application. SolarCity’s installations are almost always a one-day event, another unique feature in this market. After the system is installed there are final inspections before the system is turned on. “

SolarCity has been in Pittsburgh since April and installations are in progress. Greg Winks estimates that there are approximately 700 solar panel installations in the area now, and that SolarCity should expect to double that number within a year. If our cloudy, gray weather makes you doubt the efficacy of solar panels, remember that Germany, with the same weather as we have, gets 50 percent of its energy from solar panels. Joyce Rothermel and Michael Drohan, both active in the Merton Center, have solar panels on their house and at this time, they have a credit with the utility company; their solar panels are producing more energy than they use. Just what we want, isn’t it? Power to the people!

You can reach Greg Winks at 412-901-6766 or

Bette McDevitt  is a member of the Editorial collective


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