Case Studies

SUNation Solar Systems Inc.

Teaching and ethics are key to solar power in Long Island, not just the technology

Christina Mathieson says New York is a “beautiful” state for alternative energy companies.

She should know—Mathieson is the vice president of marketing at SUNation Solar Systems, which has been installing solar since 2003. She says the booming industry that has arisen in New York state the past few years is partially the result of tax incentives and financing programs that make solar more affordable.

SUNation Solar Systems Inc.

That’s great for residents and the environment, she says, but there’s a downside.

Some companies are less interested than hers in promoting clean energy and saving money for customers, and more interested in taking advantage of a new market in which many people don’t know enough to keep from being ripped off, she says.

“Because a lot of people haven’t been down this road before, it’s hard to know what to do when buying solar,” she says. “It can make the industry ripe for the picking.”

Not just selling, informing

Mathieson has a reason to be indignant. SUNation has lived and breathed solar for more than 13 years, and it goes out of its way to inform customers about the new programs, tax breaks and long term payoffs of using solar.

SUNation was founded by Scott Maskin, a master electrician, and Mike Bailis, an HVAC industry veteran. It does its own engineering, design and installation, and it even has a service division that will repair hardware, or trim tree branches if they’re obscuring a panel.

Mathieson says customer service is not just a focus, but a necessity. SUNation often guides customers through county-sponsored property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs that allow business owners to roll the costs of installing solar panels into their property taxes.

In addition, SUNation helps customers apply for tax credits for using clean energy sources. It also helps residential customers find out how much the property value of their house could increase from having a well-installed solar panel on the roof. Mathieson explains that by exploring the right financing options, home owners can stay “cash flow positive from the beginning.”

Taking a stance

The company made headlines for speaking out against leasing solar panels for homeowners, a practice common in the industry, and formally ended its residential leasing program in 2016.

For homeowners, leased solar equipment doesn’t raise property value the way owned equipment does. Mathieson says lease-based companies often don’t guarantee how much energy their panels will produce, nor do they promise that their installation won’t harm an owner’s roof. They do, however, require customers to sign off that they won’t file a class action lawsuit in the event that something goes wrong.

“When you were a kid, your mother told you nothing was for free—that’s what’s going on here,” she says.

Spreading the solar message

Part of SUNation’s mission is to share the benefits of solar energy. It does this not only by partnering with local businesses, but also by donating equipment to those in need.

Mathieson has worked closely with loan officer Sharon Starke at MCS Mortgage Bankers and Joe Parisi at GreenSeal Weatherization to form the Long Island Green Homes Team (LIGHT). LIGHT is a nonprofit that uses the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s energy efficiency programs to lower utilities’ costs for residents by installing upgrades like LED light bulbs, insulation and on-demand water systems.

Starke and MCS Mortgage help first time homebuyers find ways to reduce their electric bill by including the costs of solar installation into their mortgage. The solar costs only increase the mortgage slightly, but drastically reduce electric bills.

In the spirit of conserving energy and helping the environment, SUNation also donates equipment to veterans and other community members. In the rare cases, where a customer chooses to upgrade to newer panels, SUNation will give the older equipment to a family in need. In one case, Mathieson says the company donated to the widow of a veteran and her children.

“If you’re a young mother with kids, getting rid of your electricity bill can be huge,” she says.

Staying on the right side of history

SUNation may one day branch out into other services similar to solar, but now Mathieson says the company’s goal is simple—to spread the word about the benefits of solar power while making it affordable. She’s convinced that in the future, people will look back and wonder why solar power wasn’t popular sooner.

She compares it to hockey helmets. A hockey fan, Mathieson explains that in the game’s century-long history, goalies weren’t required to wear helmets until the 1970s. Though players resisted the change for decades, now, no goalie would ever imagine not wearing one.

“What were they thinking?” she asks. “The puck was going 100 miles an hour aimed at their heads and yet they thought everything was going to be fine?”

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