A childhood visit to the Hoover Dam sparked Scott Oman's fascination with hydroelectricity. As a teenage Eagle Scout, he spent time with environmentalist role models who were proponents of renewable energy.
"This is my dream business," says Oman, co-owner and chief operational officer of South Coast Solar (2605 Ridgelake Drive, Metairie, 504-529-7869; www. southcoastsolar.com), which installs solar energy systems. "This is the business plan I drew up when I was 15."
Oman started out working on solar and wind projects in California. When the federal and Louisiana governments began offering tax credits for renewable energy systems, he moved back to New Orleans to install solar panels. Five years ago, Oman partnered with Tucker Crawford and Robert Suggs Jr. to launch South Coast Solar.
Tax incentives have made solar power systems an easy sell: The state offers a tax credit of 50 percent of the cost of installation, up to $12,500; the federal government offers 30 percent of the total investment. Property owners can buy or lease the systems.
"Leasing is a good option for people who want guaranteed savings from day one and don't want to worry about maintenance," Oman says. Leases let the user set a stable electricity rate for the next several years at a cost generally lower than utility rates.
"If you could have locked in gas rates from 20 years ago, you'd still be paying 88 cents per gallon today," Oman says. "People would love to be able to do that. Well, that's what installing solar does — you're locking in today's rate for energy."
Solar panels are interconnected silicon cells joined together to form circuits. They create a "green power plant" that remains connected to the larger public utility grid. Sometimes the solar power system alone meets all the demand for energy a house or building needs; when it doesn't, the utility grid provides the power. When the solar energy system generates more power than the property needs, it flows back into the grid and the utility company provides the system owner with credit.
That means immediate savings on energy costs, but it does not mean a solar energy system can keep a home or business running through power outages. To be connected to the power grid, all solar energy systems must automatically go offline during outages.
"It's a safety concern for utility workers — they do not want you energizing their lines with your power when they have people working on them," Oman says. He points out there are battery backup systems and incorporated generators available. "During Hurricane Isaac, all of Metairie was black except for the South Coast Solar sign," he says with a laugh.
Local clients include the U.S. Army (at regional facilities including Fort Polk), Falstaff Apartments, schools, homes and businesses.
"We're seeing it more and more every day. More people ... saying 'Hey, we can do this, and it makes sense. We can save money,'" Oman says. "I believe we're in the infancy of a revolution in how we generate and consume energy in this country."