SEWARD -- Anyone can buy solar energy panels on the Internet.
But mounting them on a roof, side of a building or on poles sunk into the ground so they work properly can be difficult even with step-by-step instructions.
Ken Schmieding and Kevan Stepp believe they have a solution to make sure the job is done right. The two Seward residents have formed Green Energy Nebraska to help businesses and farm operations install solar panels. Green Energy also helps businesses and farm operations adjust to the new technology.
"We're from ground to finish. We don't sub anything out (except for a licensed electrician)," said Stepp, owner of Seward Machine and Tool.
Stepp's tool and die business at 2609 Pine Road serves Green Energy Nebraska's headquarters. Visitors can stop by and see working solar energy panels displayed three different ways: on the roof, awning style and as a ground array.
They also can get a close-up view of the inverter boxes that help convert the sun's energy through photovoltaics into usable electricity.
Green Energy Nebraska doesn't manufacture solar energy panels. The panels come from suppliers, but once they arrive, Stepp and his only employee, Brandon Betka, fine tune the mounting hardware and make other adjustments to ensure the customer's needs are met.
But that's only part of what Green Energy Nebraska does, Schmieding said. The company also evaluates the customer's electrical usage and recommends how many and what type of solar energy panels would work best. The goal is to reduce the customer's monthly electricity bill and even get it to zero.
Stepp is a good example of how renewable energy can save money. He's not paid anything for electricity for the last two months because his solar energy panels produced more power than he's used. So, he sold the excess electricity to his local utility, which owes him $23.21 for October and $18.32 for November.
"We were the first ones to have net metering in the city of Seward," Schmieding said.
Net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar or wind power to feed the power they do not use back into the grid and get paid for it.
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But Stepp is far from being in the black. Even though he did most of the work himself, his solar energy system, made up of 72 panels, cost about $50,000. Federal tax credits and a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped offset most of the expense. He estimates his payback period at seven years.
Both Schmieding and Stepp said that's why they want to cater to mostly businesses and farm operations because they can take advantage of more tax credits and grant programs than homeowners, thus lowering the cost of a solar energy panel project.
"The big part for a farmer or business owner is depreciation," Stepp said.
If a homeowner is interested, however, they would be willing to talk. Stepp can be reached at 402-643-2300 and Schmieding at 402-643-3018.
Schmieding said he became interested in renewable energy while serving on the Nebraska Public Power District Board from 2003-2009. He researched solar and wind energy technologies for about a year and a half before approaching Stepp about starting a new business.
"I knew I needed this guy or I'm dead in the water," said Schmieding, who also owns a photography business in Seward.
Schmieding said Stepp has the manufacturing expertise. He's owned his business since 1985. For his part, Schmieding said he can help customers deal with electric utilities, noting that each utility has its own net metering policy.
Both men believe solar energy is just taking off and they are on the ground floor of a renewable energy revolution.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. installed 1,354 megawatts of solar photovoltaic in the third quarter of 2014, up 41 percent over the third quarter of 2013, making it the second-largest quarter for solar installations in the history of the market.
"Nebraska is a good state sunwise," Schmieding said.