One family’s path to solar power
It’s high time to find a new energy paradigm and harness the sun for our electricity. The solution is staring us in the face every day — or almost every day.
Here’s the story of how one family began to think outside its energy box and look at what was not only possible but available, affordable and necessary.
My wife and I have been attending the annual SolarFest in Tinmouth for many years. The festival teaches sustainability and renewable energy and this summer will mark its 20th year.
We love the idea of a festival that combines workshops and world music, all powered by the sun. We also love the idea of using that knowledge and excitement and to build a resilient and sustainable community.
With all of the knowledge and enthusiasm we’ve gained from SolarFest through the years we have finally taken the photovoltaic plunge.
I think the fact that we had to rethink our energy world is what took us so long to finally commit. Micro-inverters, solar renewable energy credits, net-metering, azimuth — these are all terms that make up the alphabet soup of solar energy.
Figuring out how to make that work for your own situation can seem a bit daunting. Fortunately, we had Karen and Jim Lee at Solar Pro in Arlington to guide us through the maze.
First, we needed a site assessment. This included looking at our roof to estimate how much power we could produce and examining our electric bill to see how much electricity we consume.
Fortunately, we have a perfect south-facing roof that is pretty new, with little shade — big enough to accommodate 39 panels, which makes for a 9.5-kilowatt array. We figured that would generate almost as much power as we use with our house and my workshop.
With that information in hand, we then had to deal with the financial part of the equation.
Prices of solar components have dropped significantly in the past few years. And state rebates and federal tax credits are available to offset a large portion of the up-front costs.
Then there is “net-metering.” For every kilowatt-hour of electricity our array produces and sends back into the grid, we get reimbursed by our utility. There is also a “feed-in tariff” which pays us a bonus 5 cents per kilowatt-hour as an incentive.
We produced more power than expected in sunny September when we installed our panels and our first bill from our electric company was a credit. That is a no-brainer.
The Vermont Legislature is discussing ways to extend the net-metering program, as some small utilities have capped the number of customers who can provide electricity back into the grid. Utilities need to figure out how to take advantage of this local production of power.
The Long Island Power Authority recently calculated that it had saved $84 million in infrastructure costs by giving incentives to developers to add to their solar portfolio at the tip of Long Island.
Distributed generation saves on high-voltage transmission lines. Suddenly it makes sense to generate power locally.
Many financing options are available in Vermont right now. Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, programs are available in some towns and several institutions offer energy loans.
We worked with Vermont State Employees Credit Union, which is a local bank offering local energy loans to help produce local power.
We took it all a step further a couple of months later and have leased an electric vehicle, a Nissan Leaf. We produce enough power to run our car, too. So instead of going to the gas station, we just plug into our panels.
Thomas Edison, talking with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1931, said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a power source! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Let’s not wait.
Bill Laberge is a cabinetmaker in Dorset. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.