Vinton dental office converts to solar power

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Vinton dentist Dr. Zachary Law has attracted a great deal of attention in the Town of Vinton in the past couple of years— first with the new office he built on Hardy Road across from Kroger, and more recently with the solar panels he has had installed on the roof.

The installation was completed by Mountain View Solar (mtvSolar) from Berkley Springs, W.Va., which is north of Winchester. Company president Mike McKechnie describes the job as a “beautiful install on a beautiful dentist office— the most modern and well-laid out office, with exceptional services.”

Why did Law choose a solar energy company from West Virginia? Because he had a dental practice in Berkley Springs for about six years until 2013 when he and his wife, Sarah, decided to make the move to Vinton.

He is originally from Elkins, W.Va., and earned his DDS degree from West Virginia University. Law moved to Vinton to take over the dental practice of Dr. Victor Skaff on Hardy Road, who married Law’s mother.

Law and his wife have a cabin in West Virginia that is “off the grid.” They decided to install solar panels to provide the basic comforts and hired mtvSolar. That successful experience led to his decision to convert to solar energy in his dental office— “really cool technology which makes sense financially and is environmentally conscious.” He reached out to his friends at Mountain View Solar to take on the job, which was completed in about a day and a half. After inspections, the system was changed over on May 7.

Seventy-two solar panels were installed on the roof, facing due south for maximum exposure to direct sunlight. Each panel measures three feet by seven feet. They are sturdy enough to walk on and to withstand weather extremes, such as wind, hail, snow, and ice. Maintenance is “as low as humanly possible.”

The panels on the roof are wired to two inverter boxes the size of briefcases in the basement that convert Direct Current (DC) to Alternating Current (AC).

In basic terms, sunlight strikes the solar panels. The inverters convert the energy for use in the office. The energy feeds into the main service panel. Loads in the office use the available solar power first and then the utility power from AEP as needed. Excess power flows back out to the utility grid.

“Whenever light hits the solar panels, my meter runs backwards,” said Law. “When I need more electricity than the panels can produce, my meter runs forward. AEP is my battery.”

So far, the solar panels are providing about 82 percent of the power usage by his office, with the remaining 20 percent from AEP. In the week since the system was changed over to solar, on the best day, 160 kilowatt hours of electricity were produced by the solar panels. Law says the system is “cloud dependent.”

The goal is 5,000 kwh per month in the sunniest months (2,500 in more temperate weather) and 36,000 kwh per year. At the current price of approximately 10 cents per kwh from the power company— if all goes as expected— Law says he should save about $3,600 on his electric bill. He estimates it will take about six and a half years to pay for the system, which has a 20-year warranty, with 25 years for the solar panels.

Law says there been only “one hiccup” since transitioning to the new system, with one of the inverters restarted remotely by the solar company; things have been running smoothly ever since. Software allows mtvSolar to monitor the system continually.

He can easily track the system on his computer and monitor how much energy each solar panel is producing at any given time. There is a monitor in the waiting room that indicates the solar energy being produced by the panels for patients to view.

Law says he didn’t consider other alternative forms of energy— such as wind. “The sun comes up every day; energy is produced even on cloudy days.”

This is a long-term project, but the savings add up quickly. He quotes statistics which show that if power continues to get more expensive at the rate of 6 percent a year, over 25 years, solar panels will save him $230,000.

Law is not aware of any other dental offices in the region using solar energy. The VA Medical Center in Salem does have a six-acre solar field in use. One of his patients at the lake has 100 solar panels that he uses to heat his indoor pool. Law says he has never talked to anyone who regretted installing solar panels.

His wife Sarah, a nurse with the Air Force National Guard, encouraged him to convert to solar power. “We enjoy trying to be responsible citizens and helping to save the environment– we should try to be as clean as we can.”

As for AEP’s reaction to the conversion, Law says the company seems to think the technology is “pretty cool.”

Law also says the solar panels serve as a great conversation starter— always useful for dentists in helping to put patients at ease. So far, his patients have been quite interested in the technology. Some have asked if his intention is to save the planet; others have asked if the new form of energy will help their own pocketbooks.

Most of his patients come from the Vinton area, Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta, and Blue Ridge. He says when he moved to Vinton the practice “just exploded” and continues to grow at a fast pace. That led to building a new state-of-the-art office with state-of-the-art technology.

Dr. Law added Dr. Jennifer Tummarello to the practice, which also includes three dental hygienists and an office staff of seven.

The Zachary Law DDS and Associates offer a wide range of services including dental exams and cleanings, cosmetic dentistry, deep cleanings, dental bridges, dental crowns, fillings, kids’ dentistry, root canal treatments, partial and complete dentures, teeth whitening, and tooth extraction.

Law says he takes pride in the fact that the practice “takes a very conservative approach to the treatments we offer, providing you with exactly the care you need without pushing services that you don’t. Vinton is a wonderful town with great people; my style fits their style; they appreciate honesty and options.”

Zachary Law DDS and Associates is located at 990 Hardy Road in Vinton. Office hours are Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.; and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Before moving to Vinton, Dr. Law was a practicing dentist in Berkeley Springs for eight years “under the tutelage of Dr. Thomas Leslie.”  He served as an adjunct professor for West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry as a preceptor for the student’s rural rotations.

He is a member of the American Dental Association, Virginia Dental Association, and Roanoke Valley Dental Society. He has been involved in several Mission of Mercy projects that provide free dental care to adults without access and is also a participating dentist in the Donated Dental Services program that supports local charities.