Solar Generation President Paul McMenemy on Why You Should Own Your Own Power Plant
Solar Generation has served Upstate New York’s Hudson Valley for nearly a decade and a half. Its founders, Todd and Jason launched Solar Generation to capture the independent, creative spirit of the region by delivering residents the highest quality, customized solar solutions for their homes and businesses — while protecting the environment.
Paul McMenemy, the President of Solar Generation, joined the team in 2017, dedicated to carrying on this legacy into the next decade and beyond. Paul has lived in the Hudson Valley for more than 20 years and has committed the majority of his professional life to the renewable and cleantech industries.
In fact, he has spent the past 15 years focused on the development and installation/construction of renewable energy projects across North America.
Through Solar Generation, Paul will continue his impactful work through the installation of residential and commercial solar and the development of larger-scale solar farms.
The following is our interview with Paul, on what led him to join Solar Generation; the mission and future of the company; the state of the solar industry; the importance of solar and other renewable energies; and why you should switch to solar today.
1. When and how did you end up in this role?
I was an investment banker in traditional energy… After September 11, I left Wall Street and traditional energy and started focusing on renewable for our national energy security — to do my little bit, to help. Soon, I was working on a number of separate projects.
About three years ago, I moved into an all-electric house in Saugerties; I decided I better practice what I preach. I contacted Solar Generation, and we installed solar at my house. They were a great crew.
I got to talking to the owner, Todd, whose business partner, Jason, had recently passed away. While I’d been working in renewable energy since 2002, I was between gigs, and I ended up purchasing the company in the middle part of 2017.
Given what I had been working on — large-scale, multi-megawatt projects — it seemed natural to help Solar Generation, which served mostly small commercial and large residential clients, maintain its thriving niche while helping the company expand to larger-scale projects like those I’d been leading. It fit my profile.
Of course I’d keep the company in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and create Solar Generation 2.0: a combination of residential and small commercial rooftop solar, as well as large, utility-scale projects across New York State.
2. Sounds like a perfect fit for you and the company. What, if anything, from your personal life, past or socio-political beliefs made you interested in this role?
Immediately after September 11, we were realizing that most of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, and the United States has relations with the Kingdom because they provide us with oil. In other words, our national energy security policy was non-existent.
It was clear to me that we needed more energy security — whether it stemmed from renewables, shale oil, even nuclear. We need to own our own energy.
New York State Governor George Patataki was talking about it; it wasn’t politically radical. We all seem to forget that it simply makes sense…
But there was also obvious evidence of climate change. It’s moving in the wrong direction, and we have to do something about it. We have to get away from carbon-producing fuels.
With Solar Generation, we’re creating our own local energy industry.
3. What an interesting way of thinking about it! What, in your words, is the mission of Solar Generation?
Our mission is to introduce local expertise and knowledge to help those living and working in the Hudson Valley become independent of the power grid and the infrastructure around it — affordably.
For more than 14 years we’ve helped you own your own power plant on your roof. You control the costs, and you can control your footprint.
4. Yes, affordability is an important topic, and one that many seem not to understand. We’ll get into that later. For now, more on Solar Generation in particular. What differentiates your company from its competition?
We’re local, and we care about the people we serve. We’re one of the very few remaining independent, family-owned contractors left.
We perform bespoke, customized work; consider the impact and the aesthetics; deliver high-quality workmanship; and provide unparalleled followup in terms of monitoring and optimizing.
For many of our competitors, it’s slap and dash — they throw panels on your roof, and you never see or hear from them again. Meanwhile, we’ve never had a single complaint about our quality or service in 14 years.
We visit your property, free of charge, and guide you through the process from start to finish.
5. Perhaps you’ve already answered the question, but what are Solar Generation’s key strengths, biggest weaknesses, greatest opportunities, and strongest threats?
In addition to our workmanship and attention to aesthetics, one of our strengths is our responsiveness. If we get a call from within, say, 60 to 80 miles of Kingston, NY, we can be out there in a couple hours.
Our only weakness, really, is our size, but this could also be a strength. We’re a small shop, so our schedule does get full. But, again, as a small shop we truly prioritize each and every project.
The greatest threat to Solar Generation is the threat to solar energy. We’re getting mixed messages from Washington: on the one hand, 30% of the cost of your solar system can be leveraged for a Federal investment tax credit; however, the administration just introduced a tariff on panel imports.
There was a solar tech breakthrough by a US company about 15 years ago, but the labor required to produce the solar panels became too expensive domestically. So, the jobs were lost to factories in Vietnam, China, Taiwan and the Philippines. In order to install solar in America, we essentially must use the panels built overseas, and by introducing stiff tariffs we’re not only weakening our nation’s ability to reduce carbon emissions, we’re hurting hard workers here. There are nearly a half a million jobs in solar energy in the US, including installing, permitting, engineering and manufacturing — much larger than any other renewable business. It even dwarfs the coal industry.
Fortunately, our opportunities remain sizable, and growing. Our goal is to solarize as many communities as we can, home by home and through our solar farms. Not to mention the advancements in solar and energy-storage batteries. In the near future I see electric cars you can drive around and then plug right into your house.
As for the farms, it’s easy and available today. You buy in to participate, on a prorated basis. Certain panels on the farm are dedicated to your property, and then there’s a back-office swap with Central Hudson, which credits your bill. This is ideal if you live where there’s a shortage of sun, or if you’re renting the home or commercial property.
6. That’s a great point — you can use solar energy even in a cabin in the woods!… With your hiring, what is the number-one thing that has changed at Solar Generation that might impact potential or existing customers?
Nothing. The prior owners were very hands on, and I hope that hasn’t changed. We take pride in our work and time with our customers.
7. What about the solar industry? How would you describe its current state?
It’s a land of opportunity: currently, only 2% to 3% of customers locally and nationally have solar energy; New York is a great State for solar because of the grants and tax credits; and there’s a strong movement nationwide to hit all the public policy targets at the State and Federal levels, which means 25% to 50% of our national power grid going to renewables — and solar will represent a significant portion, much more so than wind, since it’s cheaper to install, requires far less permitting, and can be performed hyper-locally. The industry, I’m pleased to say, is very healthy.
8. That’s exciting, from the commercial and environmental perspective! What do you foresee for the future?
It’ll take a little time, but the cost of installation and the panels are coming down, and the panels are becoming more and more efficient.
9. By going solar, what impact will I have on the environment and society at large?
The facts and figures are endless.
You can save hundreds of gallons of gasoline, not burned, or thousands of tons of carbon and methane, not released into the atmosphere. With solar, there are no emissions at all. It’s simply electrons, zipping around.
10. What are the most common misconceptions about solar energy?
Cost — that it’s hugely expensive; and reliability.
Quite simply, it’s not expensive. Nearly anyone can afford it, and it saves you money. Also, with solar, there are no moving parts. Once you install the panels, they don’t break. You don’t have to watch them. There’s no maintenance. The rain takes care of the washing.
11. What is Solar Generation doing to try to combat this lack of awareness?
We do everything we can. We table. We talk to folks. We lay it out in the contracts.
There are two ways to go solar: you can buy it outright; or you can finance it like a car loan. Either way, you get the tax credits, and with a loan you’re paying less than your utility bill while creating your own power!
A lot of people ask about ROI, or return on investment — but your electric bill is life. It’s not something you can choose. It’s not a discretionary investment, it’s like food or clothing. One way we try to explain it that seems to make sense for people is:
Instead of paying Central Hudson $150 a month, apply for a seven-year loan, pay the bank $135 per month, and after seven years you’re done — with working panels for another 15 to 20 years, at no cost.
And, if you ever sell your house, the increase in home value is profound. Here’s how I like to look at it:
For every dollar you save in utility costs, add about $20 to the value of your home.
12. Seems pretty convincing; but, if someone is still insure, why is now the time to go solar?
Regulatory and grant incentives.
The Federal Investment Tax Credit is dropping at the end of the year from 30% to 26%. That’ll represent a $2,000 loss, on average.
For our service area, in particular, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, incentive will also be decreasing at year end.
The combination of the two could result in a $3,000 to $4,000 savings loss, so this should create a sense of urgency.