Solar energy is 100 percent clean, and has the potential

to reduce dependence on oil and to shred electric bills,

allowing homeowners to receive checks from PSE&G – rather

than write them. But are roof-mounted solar panels a

blight upon the land?

The homeowners association at the Crossings at Grover’s

Mill in Plainsboro thought so, and tried to stop Manick

Rajendran from installing solar panels on his roof.

Rajendran is a technologist who owns Diverge

(201-349-0066), a medical records software start-up

specializing in getting doctors’ offices organized.

Formerly a vice president of Deutsch Bank, he is also a

dad and an environmentalist, and he was determined to use

the sun to power his home.

He and his wife, Raji, who runs an online store, are the

parents of two sons, a freshman at Georgia Tech and a

sixth grader at the Community Middle School. "We are

involved in conservation at home," he says. He wanted to

install solar panels because "we could save 300 hundred

trees a year, without even lifting a finger."

But when Rajendran went to his homeowners association, of

which he is the architectural chair, to get permission, he

got a swift turndown instead. The majority sentiment was

that the panels would be ugly, and would lower the values

of all of the homes in the neighborhood. His immediate

neighbors were on his side, but their opinion did not sway

the association. The rejection galvanized Rajendran to

action. He is convinced that solar power is good for the

planet, and, what’s more, he says, "my sons were

emotionally invested in the project."

Rajendran triumphed, and in doing so became the first New

Jersey resident living in a home controlled by a

homeowners association to install solar panels.

His house, which is located at 4 Briardale Court in

Plainsboro, is featured on a Green Buildings Open House

taking place on Saturday, October 7, from 10 a.m. to 4

p.m. This is a national event, but local tours are being

coordinated by the Northeast Sustainable Energy

Association (www.nsea.org), and complete details on the

tour are available on its website. Central New Jersey

homes and businesses being showcased include properties in

Hopewell, Ringoes, Branchburg, Cream Ridge, Flemington,

and Englishtown.

Rajendran, whose panels were installed just about one year

ago, used a variety of tactics in his fight to be included

in a list of "green" homes. First of all, he polled

members of his older son’s class at West Windsor

Plainsboro High School North. The youngsters proclaimed

his proposed panels "cool."

"They are the people who will be buying your houses in 10

years," he told neighbors who were concerned about

property values.

Next he arranged a presentation in his home at which he

showed photographs of attractive solar installations in

California. "They said `that’s California, not New

Jersey,’" he says of the unenthusiastic reception his

show-and-tell received.

Then he went around the state, going through public

records to compare resale prices for homes with solar

panels to those for homes without solar panels. He found

that the homes with the roof-mounted panels were selling

for at least as much as the other homes in their

neighborhoods. To bolster his contention that the panels

would not lower values in his development, he met with

real estate agents, and quickly found three who were

prepared to appear in front of his homeowners association

to state their opinion that the panels would not depress

prices.

With the poll, the public records he had found, and the

comments of real estate agents bolstering his argument,

Rajendran went back to the homeowners association. He was

turned down again.

A calm, rational man, with a methodical approach born of

his training as an engineer, he nevertheless was not about

to take no for an answer. He consulted an attorney, and

was told that he was facing an "uphill battle" in going

against a decision of a homeowners association. But he

went ahead, and told his association that he was prepared

to sue. That did it. The association caved, and he got his

panels.

They were installed by GeoGenix (www.GeoGenix.com), a

Rumson-based company that specializes in geothermal, wind

power, and green planning and building as well as in solar

energy installations. Gaurav Naik, co-owner of the

company, will be at the Rajendran house during the green

building tour to answer questions on solar installations.

Naik, who studied solar energy technology at the

University of New South Wales and did his graduate work in

the science at the State University of New York at

Buffalo, has long had an interest in using the sun for

power. "During my sophomore year at New South Wales I sat

in on a lecture by an American, a woman from Delaware," he

recounts. "She said `50 percent of the people in the world

do not have electricity.’" Solar power is a way to bring

it to them, the professor, who had chosen to teach at New

South Wales because of its solar research program, was

convinced.

This galvanized Naik. His father was a lawyer and a

businessman in India, and, says Naik, had worked with

India’s largest car manufacturer to bring buses and trucks

to under-developed areas around the world. He hopes to do

the same with solar power, and thinks that the technology

to reap power from the sun at low cost will be here within

seven years. In the meantime, he set up shop in New

Jersey, becoming a co-owner of 30-year-old GeoGenix three

years ago.

The reason that he chose this state is simple. Thanks to

some of the most generous rebates in the nation, demand

for solar is booming in New Jersey. But his company, and

the 10 to 15 companies like it in the state, are running

into a serious problem. Rebates, set at 70 percent 18

months ago, are now down to about 45 percent of the

$80,000 that it costs to install a 10 kilowatt solar plant

like the one that is powering Rajendran’s Plainsboro home.

But, still, it’s a good deal, and so many New Jersey

residents are clamoring to go solar that it is taking

between 12 and 24 months to receive approval from the

state for a rebate. "We have 50 customers lined up and

waiting for approval," he says. "Three years back we did

not have enough customers."

The state set aside a fixed amount of money for solar

rebates, and that money is running out, which is why the

rebate was dropped from 70 to 45 percent. Naik says that

he is heavily involved in changing the state’s approach.

Rather than paying rebates, he says that the state should

be increasing Solar Energy Renewable Credits. This is

money that utility companies pay to homeowners like

Rajendran who sell back power that their solar panels have

pulled in, but that they don’t use. Naik is convinced that

the state will go to this approach within 18 months or so.

Meanwhile, Naik says that Rajendran’s victory will

reverberate in homeowner association-regulated

developments throughout the state. His company just

installed solar panels in such a development in Mansfield.

He says that the panels are more attractive and less

obtrusive than they were in the past, and are becoming

more so all the time. He used 52 panels on Rajendran’s

house, but says that a similar system would now use only

45 panels. "It looks just like a big skylight," he says,

"and skylights have been accepted for a long time." No

wires show on a solar-powered house. They are encased in a

conduit, which can be color-coordinated with the house and

behind the chimney. Conversion boxes generally go into

basement closets.

One year after going solar, Rajendran has reduced his

electric bills from $200 to $250 to zero in most months,

and he just received a check for $1,600 from PSE&G for his

energy credits. What’s more, he has received only

compliments on his panels from his neighbors, at least one

of whom has put in an application for approval for his own

solar array.

Facebook Comments