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Homeless shelter now powered by sun, free of charge

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
Dozens of solar panels are now bolted to the roof of the Buffalo City Mission, western New York's largest homeless shelter.

A spread of solar panels atop the Buffalo City Mission, Western New York’s largest homeless shelter, was formally switched on today. The panels were free for the shelter, thanks to Solar Liberty, a Buffalo- based company that arranged for state grants to pay for most of the cost of the project.

The solar panels will save the shelter nearly $7,000 a year in electricity and nearly $300,000 over the life of the installation.

City Mission director Stuart Harper said his organization will reinvest those savings.

“A meal costs us $1.98. That’s 150,000 meals. So that’s real life. That’s a number of years of meals that are paid for by saving this money on electricity,” Harper said.

Tapping into state grants is part of Solar Liberty’s unique strategy. With the cost of solar still prohibitive for many residential homes, Solar Liberty has found a way to use the tools out there to grow solar's presence and their bottom line.

To grow their business, they've arranged for green energy-tailored state grants to cover the majority of costs for installations on non-profits.  The company then pays for the rest (around 25-40%). They don't make as much money as they would otherwise, but their business has grown dramatically through this method.But Solar Liberty president Adam Rizzo said similar state grants in the future will likely be dramatically smaller.

“They have reduced the amount that’s available,” he said.“But in conjunction with solar panel costs and other equipment costs coming down, the grants are still viable to do business in New York State.”

As cars drove past the installation, Rizzo said total pollution offset by the panels would be the equivalent of taking 1.6 million miles of car traffic off the roads.  

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WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.