With rising fuel costs and a long recession, more people are looking to the sun for their energy solutions. (After all, the sun is humankind’s oldest, largest, and most powerful energy company, and it doesn’t raise its rates.) Interest in solar power has spurred some contractors to retool their operations; Mann Plumbing/MPI Solar is among them.

A plumber since 1992, company founder David Mann entered the solar-power business in 2008 by way of installing solar hot-water systems, which he advertised as one of his company’s many services. When he began receiving calls asking about photovoltaic (PV) solar panels for electricity, he expanded into that field.

“Everybody wants some solar,” says Mann. “It’s kind of an interesting, cool thing that people would like to have. The impediment, for the most part, is the entry cost. It’s a somewhat large initial investment. But the benefit is, you’re locking in your electricity rates with the purchase of the system.”

Solar panels can last 30 years or more, he notes, and “as prices of electricity go up, the payback period shortens.” Additionally, the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit on qualifying solar equipment installed through 2016.

Mann has done installations all over Indiana, including Marion, Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Seymour, but he says Bloomington has the lead in solar energy. “There are more installations here than anywhere else in the state.”

One recent project saw Mann team up with two other contractors to install a 63,000-watt system atop Showers Plaza. Bloomingfoods, Upland Brewing Company, and Nick’s English Hut are other well-known establishments whose roofs bear Mann systems. His company has also done many installations at private residences.

Mann believes that the public exposure generated by the local installations is helping the solar power industry grow. “It has increased visibility and awareness of the fact that it works,” he says. “It’s not a technology down the road. It’s ready to go now.”

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