HobbymasterssolarAlan Placer on what used be called the roof but he now calls the “third floor” of Hobbymasters — the floor that makes money from the sun.

The solar panels are all in, and by this time next week, Arlene Placer of Hobbymasters on White Street can send JCP&L a condolence card instead of a hefty check each month.

The toy-and-gadget store’s rooftop solar array that redbankgreen broke the story on this summer is just about ready to fire up, says Arlene’s son, Alan. He oversaw the recent installation of what he believes is the biggest solar-power system in Monmouth County: 106 panels generating enough juice to power the equivalent of 10 average-sized homes.

The system makes the medium-sized business a pioneer of sorts. While others with vast, unobstructed roofs, such as supermarkets, are expected to begin installing solar panels, as far as Placer can tell, there are as yet no others as large as Hobbymasters’ — a situation he thinks is a sad comment on America’s energy priorities.

But just as certain as he is that his store’s will eventually be eclipsed in size, he knows as well that better, more efficient systems will be available long before the 20-year life expectancy of his has run its course.

“We know in five years these panels are going to be out of date,” he says. “But it’s like buying a home computer: when you’re ready, you buy it.”

In this case, though, the depreciation isn’t so rapid. In fact, Placer expects the $170,000 system will save the store about $500 a month in electricity costs and pay for itself in five to seven years, after factoring in a state grant; utility cost savings and credits for power the system puts into the grid; federal tax depreciation credits; and tradable Solar Renewable Energy Certificates issued by the state that could alone be worth up to $20,000 a year.

“In the end, it’s really a business decision,” he says. “If putting this on would have cost us money in the long run, we wouldn’t have done it. We call this the third floor of our business now.”

After some final electrical work and inspections, Placer says he expects the switchover to solar to occur by the middle of next week. “The, the meter will start spinning” in his favor, he says.

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