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Solar Energy beginning to heat up in the Valley

December 30, 2010
"Solar thermal is the place to start," says Lanoie. He should know for the past thirty years Lanoie has been heating with solar energy and says over the years 85 percent of his hot water has come from the sun. Lanoie stresses the importance of helping people know where dollars for energy conservation can be best spent. "The first step is an energy audit and then insulation," he says.

Ned Beecher agrees. "Improving efficiency is the number one thing. Most homes provide a lot of opportunities for low-cost improvements in efficiency. For example, hot water pipes should be insulated with special foam pipe insulation," says Beecher. He adds that the most cost efficient option for year round homes is solar hot water, also known as solar thermal.

This past October, Beecher began the process of installing a solar hot water system by hosting an energy raiser at his home in Tamworth. He got the idea after attending a talk given by Carl McNall at the Cook Memorial Library. McNall, from Sandwich, spoke about solar hot water heating systems and how an energy raiser works. Beecher says that at the same time he spoke with a plumber who had given him an estimate of a little over $10,000 to install a solar system.

Beecher was pleased to find out how much money he would save; there are generous state rebates and a federal tax credit, how he could reduce his energy consumption by using the sun and how an energy raiser works. He shares his experience and his savings.

In spring 2010, he contacted McNall about having an energy raiser at his house. An energy raiser is based on the early American practice of barn-raising where neighbors would help neighbors build their barns. Energy raisers help neighbors install solar hot water systems. The neighbor-helping-neighbor concept does need planning and an experienced electrician and plumber. PAREI has developed a model, which interested parties can follow. So you need willing neighbors and an experienced renewable energy initiative volunteer that follows the checklist, provides guidance and answers questions, says Beecher. "Having an energy raiser requires effort on the part of the homeowner, but it is a great learning experience," says Beecher.

There are some first steps before the actual energy raiser. To begin, he joined STMREI/PAREI for fifty dollars, which is the organization in Tamworth. In Beecher's case, McNall came to the property and checked to be certain there was enough sunlight. "To do a measure he used a nifty solar pathfinder instrument that looks a little like a half-globe. It is aligned north/south and level. It adjusted for our latitude. It then shows what percentage of possible sunlight actually reaches the site each month of the year. For approval of a rebate from the state, the site has to receive at least eighty percent of possible sunlight over the course of a year," explains Beecher. McNall, with help of staff, gave an estimate of equipment costs. Beecher gave a fifty percent deposit and was then responsible for making sure major parts arrived at his property.

Next step is scheduling the energy raiser. They chose a date. "McNall and STMREI/PAREI were advertising the agreed date to other members so they could plan to come help us. We were encouraged to attend at least two other energy raisers," he says.

The Saturday before the planned energy raiser on the following Tuesday, they had a meeting with the team to plan the installation details. On the day of the energy raiser, October 4, seven hours later the solar hot water system was installed. "The group arrived about 8:30 a.m. and we met at nine o'clock to plan the day, assigning teams to complete the various parts. By 3:30 p.m., the system was installed. We, the homeowners, were responsible for providing coffee in the morning and lunch for all the volunteers," says Beecher.

Just what did he save? "The most important timely point right now is that there is a generous state rebate program, in addition to a thirty percent federal tax credit. And the state rebate program has increased in the past few weeks, to a whopping two thousand nine hundred dollars," says Beecher.

Here are Beecher's calculations on cost-effectiveness (figures are approximate):

The estimate for having a plumbing contractor put in system is around: $10,000.

State rebate: $2,600

Federal tax credit (30 percent): $3,000

Final installed cost: $4,400.

If homeowners decide to go the energy raiser route, which requires investment of homeowner's time estimated up-front cost are: $4,500.

State rebate: $2,600

Federal tax credit (30 percent): $1,350

Final installed cost: $550.

Beecher explains that the state rebate requires completion of two applications to the Public Utilities Commission, one before installation and one after. You must meet the state's standards. The first application is for the proposed system and is pre-approved for rebate. You have up to a year to install system, explains Beecher.

Beecher is not the only one who has hosted an energy raiser. The second energy raiser was at Maggie Finn's home on the Conway/Madison town line this past November. Beecher says there are already several lined up for Conway in 2011 and that there are knowledgeable neighbors coming together in TMREI to help make more installations happen.

Right now, solar hot water heating is a great deal, with the rebate and tax credit, he adds. It's a fine investment that pays itself back in less than five years. And it's good for the environment, helps with local jobs, and reduces dependence on foreign oil," says Beecher.

For more information visit: www.tinmountain.org or www.plymouthenergy.org

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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