Alternative sources of power are in business
Nov 5, 2000 - Dan Weisman, Staff Writer - North
ESCONDIDO ---- San Diego County's status
as an energy disaster area has propelled the few North
County alternative energy companies into seeing green
---- green as in environmentally-friendly systems
and green as in increased income.
"Business has picked up tremendously,"
said Mark Snyder, whose Mark Snyder Electric has been
a North County leader in alternative energy systems
since the mid-1980s.
"We have a lot more systems going in
now," Snyder said. "Right now the demand is as great
as it was for Y2K, maybe higher. We had a half-dozen
calls a day before interest died down over Y2K Then
it was maybe 2-to-3 calls a week. Ten out of 10 of
them want to cut their bills. We start with energy
efficiency and of those 10 have been selling to 50
percent of them."
Solar energy systems are far and away
the most popular with North County homeowners. Wind
powered systems and other "off-the-grid" energy solutions
are hardly used locally. Not enough wind around here
for windmills and continued issues about efficiency
and costs with other systems, said Snyder, who sells
those systems mainly in Riverside and San Bernardino
"Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency,"
Snyder said as he looked across his self-built home
on 20 hilltop acres overlooking the San Pasqual Valley.
The Snyder place also has an extensive "permaculture"
farming operation that uses no chemicals and is aided
by a dozen distinct ecosystems that enable the growing
of apples, blackberries, artichokes, guava, papaya
and hosts a healthy flock of free range chickens,
among other delights.
"Efficiency is really important," Snyder
said. "The average home can have energy-saving appliances,
evaporative cooling and solar panels and save on 50
percent of the power used in the home. We generally
tie solar panels and utility inter-ties with an overall
Typical job: $10,000
The standard solar energy units Snyder
sells can provide 8,000 watts at a time through 4-panel
solar units installed on the roof. A typical installation
costs around $10,000 with a new state "buy down" program
providing a $3-a-watt subsidy that accounts for about
30 percent of the costs.
Considering a 25-year lifespan for the
units, Snyder calculates the costs end up at 12 cents
a kilowatt while the current rate for conventional
energy stands at 13 cents a kilowatt.
Of course, this summer, as San Diego
Gas and Electric squared off in a newly deregulated
market, North County energy consumers found rates
exploding from 4 cents per kilowatt to more than 21
cents per kilowatt.
Snyder has built a significant presence
in the alternative energy marketplace with 15 to 35
employees ---- depending on available jobs ---- and
contracting projects in 22 states.
Alternative energy accounts for 25 percent
to 30 percent of the business, generates $150,000-$200,000
annually and has tripled in the last year, Snyder
"I think next year it will continue
to increase," Snyder added, referring to new commercial
work, remodels, and project roll-outs handled by his
company that generates much of its business from a
network of informed customers and a MarkSnyderElectric.com
"When a solar power system is mounted
on your home's rooftop, not only do you get electricity
at a competitive price but you also avoid the distribution
and transmission charges that now represent more than
half of your monthly electric bill," Snyder added.
Snyder estimated that five or six companies
now provide alternative energy systems that continue
One of those is Horizon Energy on Mission
Avenue in Escondido. Business has "always been busy,"
said office manager Carol Landry. "But now we're really
"We have had so many inquiries we now
have a seminar Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. for those,"
Landry said. "Most of the new inquiries have been
about solar electric systems. We're installing one
a week lately. We do service as well and are booked
two weeks in advance right now."
Wind systems also for sale
Horizon specializes in 16-20 solar panel
systems that generate 10,000 watts a day; 2,000 watts
at a time, and cost around $26,000 with the state
"buy-down" subsidies covering up to 30 percent of
"We sell wind systems, too, for $600
---- mainly to people in Mexico," Landry said. "Baja
is always having brownouts."
The only other significant application
of solar energy technology in North County appears
to come in the form of pools. Swimming pool owners
have increasingly turned to the sun for heating water
and away from natural gas powered heating systems
that now are found in the vast majority of pools.
North County companies specializing
in installing solar panels for pool heating reported
a heavy increase in calls about alternative power
in general and a slight increase in overall business.
"We've gotten a ton more calls, probably
because of the electric bills," said Lisa Esposito
of Performance Solar of Escondido. "Overall, I think
business has increased a little bit."
Ted Mount, owner of what is believed
to be the largest solar energy contractor for swimming
pools in the West, said his company, Natural Energy
USA, had a lot of people calling about installations
and business was increasing.
Mount said his company also fields several
calls a day about solar power for homes and the company's
Web site has "gotten a lot more hits."
Consumer interest in savings on water
heating, in general, also have contributed to the
company's doubling of sales in the last year, Mount
said, adding the company projected doubling sales
again this year.
The business, based near the Escondido
Auto Park on South Vinewood Street, generated $2 million
in sales last year, employed 35 people and is expanding
into major Arizona and Nevada markets, Mount said.
"Solar electricity today for homes is
too costly, so our main market is solar for swimming
pools," Mount said. "The energy costs are so high
people can't afford to heat their pools. With solar
heat, they can heat the pool for nine months a year
and using solar panels to heat (home) water can save
80 percent on their annual water bill."
Solar panels to heat pool water are
installed in a day by a small crew and average around
$4,255 an installation while installing a storage
tank heating system that contains 80 gallons of hot
water runs around $3,500, Mount said.
Contact staff writer Dan Weisman at
(760) 739-6644 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.