Q&A with Trent Welch: “I saved more money than I thought I would!”

April 14th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh

Solar Electric Array in York MaineWe love talking to our customers to learn the back-story of solar.  What got them interested?  How is their system working?  This month, we feature Trent Welch.  Trent is Sales Manager at GC/AAA Fences in Dover, and recently installed solar and a heat pump at his home (and the business is consider their own systems!).  He has a year of data on his system now, which he was kind enough to share with us.

Tell us a little about yourself.  What’s your background and what got you interested in solar?

I am 43 years old and live in York Beach, Maine with my wife Katie and three kids Josie, Shea and Jack (one out of college and now on her own, one in college and my son is in high school).  We have lived in our home since 2008.  By no means am I a “homesteader living off the grid type”, but we try to do our part.  It’s clear our actions have an impact on the environment and it’s become more mainstream to implement “green” changes to one’s lifestyle.  This started with the obvious – going all organic in my yard and garden, installing simple pull down solar shades on the South end of the house and basic conservation efforts, like turning off lights that aren’t being used.  It’s much easier to not use the electricity in the first place, no matter how it’s produced!

4-5 years ago I realized that my roof was very well positioned for solar panels. I started to research the idea and eventually found my way to Revision Energy for a solar consultation.  I loved everything about it but with two kids about to enter college I was looking for a financial arrangement where I would end up at net zero cost after electricity savings.  At the time, the numbers just didn’t add up, so the project was put on hold.

So what made you decide to go from solar ‘curious’ to solar customer?

About four years after my first inquiry with Revision, I heard that the solar craze was causing prices to drop drastically.  I decided to inquire again and a few things had changed in my favor.

First, the price did indeed go down (actually, it was about the same total project budget, but I got more production as the modules were more efficient – my roof could now hold a 3.6kw array rather than a 2.8kw array).  Second, the new mini-split heat pumps were gaining popularity (and my house is perfect for it) and actually ended up being a more financially advantageous change than the solar. Third, Revision now works with a specialty bank for low interest fixed loans to finance these types of projects.  This was huge because I was (and still am) in the midst of the previously mentioned tuition payments.

It certainly took some time and attention, like any home project, but I was able to install the solar array as well as a 15,000 btu Fujitsu mini-split heat pump for zero dollars out of pocket.

Awesome.  So, how’s it worked out so far?  Has everything been to your expectations?

Electric Heat Pump for Home in York MaineThe solar panels worked out very closely to what I was told for electricity production.  The heat pump definitely exceeded expectations.  I was told that it would handle 100% of my heating during the “shoulder” heating months and then I would need my backup (propane) to help with the two coldest months.

The reality was that I used my back up propane heat for exactly ONE night, looking back I could have toughed it out and gone for ZERO.  Considering the record breaking February we just had, I am thrilled with this.  The added cost of electricity to run the heat pump ended up being a fraction of what the propane would have been, and the heat pump performed well even during extreme cold.  As with anything new, it takes some time to understand and tweak it, but what a great system.  It’s also a 15,000 btu air conditioner – I don’t use that much but it’s nice to have.

My one year anniversary of going on-line was March 8th, 2015, so I have some hard numbers to talk about.  In choosing to finance the system and incur some finance charges, I actually expected to be at a slight deficit in year one – instead, I was $104 in the positive!  This is a result of saving more money than I anticipated by reducing electricity AND propane costs.  I also made a bit of money selling off my old propane heater on craigslist.  While this is encouraging, what is even more exciting is that this savings per year will only stand to increase as the cost for propane and electricity rises in the future – my savings will improve proportionally.

Of course, the most important impact of the PV system was in reducing over 3.2 tons of CO2 emissions from electrical plants since going online.  We also used about 560 fewer gallons of propane (which works out to an additional 3.5 tons of CO2 emissions avoided!).  Overall, it’s a huge win, for both our family finances, and the planet.


Wells Reserve First 100% Solar Nonprofit in Maine

April 6th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Wells Reserve Goes 100% Solar Announcement

ReVision co-founder Phil Coupe, alongside Independent Senator Angus King, joined Paul Dest of the Wells Reserve, Nik Charov of Laudholm Trust, and a group of supporters and press in celebrating the nonprofit’s bold move towards solar.

Two years ahead of schedule, the Wells Reserve at Laudholm has powered up its FOURTH solar electric array, making it  the first nonprofit in Maine to be 100% solar-powered.

“This project set the bar for the nonprofit community, small businesses, and residents of Maine,” said Nik Charov, President, Laudholm Trust, “Our efforts prove that the solutions we need for energy independence and sustainability shine right here in Maine.”

The Wells Reserve’s aggressive move to solar started in March 2013, when they recognized that the marine research facility should do whatever it could to minimize fossil fuel combustion and the resulting carbon pollution because of the proven negative environmental impacts of ocean acidification, ocean warming and climate change.

Flash forward 2 years, and the facility now boasts huge energy conservation improvements, as well as four solar arrays: 35.5kw on the Ecology Center, 14.8kw on Alheim Commons, 5.61kw on the Post Doc House, and a 6.63kw ground mount system.  The systems, cumulatively, will produce roughly 72,900 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, enough to meet all electric needs at the Marine Research campus, including heating loads at several buildings.

Wells Reserve’s accomplishments were made possible thanks to support from NOAA, the Mattina R. Proctor Foundation, the Davis Conservation Foundation, the Town of Wells, Efficiency Maine, and Wells Reserve at Laudholm members.

“With rising seas and warming waters, estuaries serve as valuable barometers to monitor the mounting effects of global climate change,” said Senator King, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “So it is only fitting that the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, a valuable part of NOAA’s national network of estuarine research reserves, is also at the forefront of the important transition to renewable energy sources and the fight against climate change. This major solar power milestone will help combat climate change by reducing oil consumption and curbing carbon emissions, helping to protect and preserve this treasured area in southern Maine for generations to come.”

 

Solar on Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm

 


New Hampshire’s House Proposes $51 Million Cuts to Renewable Funds

April 2nd, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Hopkington, NH - Solar PV Panels

A recently installed 7kw solar electric array in Hopkington, New Hampshire… the type of system threatened by the $51 million raid on renewable energy rebates proposed by NH’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives

The NH State House has voted in favor of a budget that would raid $51 million of funding from New Hampshire’s renewable energy fund to close a budget gap.  This move flies in the face of broadly supported, bipartisan clean energy policies that have supported hundreds of solar jobs in New Hampshire and brought millions of dollars of private investment into the state.

This potentially disastrous move comes just as New Hampshire’s renewable policy was showing signs of progress – several bills attacking the RPS have been defeated this session, and the Governor’s left the renewable energy funds alone completely and balanced the budget using more responsible tools.

The raid on renewable energy funds to plug holes elsewhere in the budget is not unprecedented in New Hampshire – previously over $16 million has been raided – but the amount the House has suggested is totally a whole other order of magnitude.  Should this move be allowed to take place, it would wipe out all renewable energy rebates in the Granite State.

The New Hampshire Sustainability Energy Association minces no words, stating that the House budget will have “devastating effects on our economy, threatening thousands of jobs and depriving towns and businesses of much-needed assistance to lower their energy costs, lower local property taxes, and keep our energy dollars here in NH’s economy.  House leadership has turned its back on its own public pledge to create a sensible budget for NH without raiding dedicated funds, using accounting gimmicks, or by raising new taxes. Raiding the dedicated renewable energy fund will strip ratepayer funds intended for cost-saving and job-creating energy projects, thereby creating a hidden energy tax.”

If you wish to carefully compare the two budgets, see the Governor’s budget here and the House budget here.

The next step in NH’s budget process is to send the House budget to the Senate, and then on to committee of conference.  The committee is tasked with getting the Governor’s budget aligned with the budgets of the Senate and House of Representatives, which are currently very out of sync.  A final bill must be passed by June 25 by both Bodies, in order to be ratified by the Governor in time for the beginning of the July 1st fiscal year.

What can you do? See https://legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB2/2015 to find out how your Representatives voted.  Then go to: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/members/wml.aspx, look up your legislators’ info, and let them know what you think of this attack on renewable energy funding!  We encourage you to reach out to your Senators and to Governor Maggie Hassan directly; let them know that renewable energy is important to you and that there are other ways to balance the budget that don’t require wholesale appropriation of the renewable energy fund.

Some important points to share:

  • Solar currently supports over 600 jobs in New Hampshire from more than 68 companies (37th in the USA)
  • In 2014, over $11 million was invested in solar installations in New Hampshire, a number poised to double this coming year
  • Solar energy prices continue to decline, 8% decline just in this last year, and 50% from 2010.  Solar energy rebates are still required to drive solar’s rapid growth, as it allows homeowners and businesses to leverage federal incentive programs and lock in electric rates below utility.
  • The first-ever “Value of Solar” study in Maine found that solar’s benefit to Maine ratepayers was roughly double the compensation offered under net metering.  Meaning – far from being a burden, NH’s net metering laws are in the public interest, and every solar installation put in offers a huge value to ALL ratepayers, not just the entity going solar
  • Nationwide, 31,000 solar jobs were created in 2014; solar jobs grew by 20% while all other industry sectors added jobs at 1.1% rate
  • New Hampshire’s 8MW of installed solar offset an estimated 3,524 tons of carbon pollution in this last year and saved solar customers an estimated $1.2 million in electricity costs

Q&A with Peter Christensen: “We must lead from the bottom since they can’t lead from the top.”

March 30th, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Solar Hot Water System Standish Maine

Peter Christensen’s home uses solar hot water panels for domestic hot water, seamlessly backed up by a fully-automated pellet boiler which also supplies heat for his 3,200 sq. ft. home

 

We spoke to Peter Christensen, a politically active retired teacher who lives in Standish. A Vietnam Vet, Peter told us how his experience in overseas wars shaped his perception of energy and how local grassroots action is required to reshape our society to a more humane and sustainable one.

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get interested in solar?

I’ve been interested in energy issues my whole life, mainly because of wars, and the oil embargo of 1973, I guess. I observed that the wars from the 80s on were mostly related to energy and the grounds for those wars (particular Iraq) quite suspect. At the same time, I have had the opportunity to see how far ahead of us they are in Europe. My daughter lives in Denmark; every time I come back home after visiting her I ask myself, “Why are we so far behind in renewable energy, and how do we catch up?”

This is important stuff: I went into the Navy because I didn’t see many other options for me as a young person. As a teacher, I have seen several former students become casualties in overseas conflicts. Our dependence on fossil fuel is a national security issue and we need to treat it that way.

So you followed solar for a long time, what made you decide to finally purchase a system?

I retired in 2013 and made a commitment to use some of our savings to take control of our energy needs. I initially met someone at ReVision Energy at an anti tar sands rally and had him come over to evaluate our situation. I started with a solar hot water system which replaced an on-demand propane unit. I was surprised to see a savings of over 100 gallons of propane per person in the first year!

Now, we have a 3,200 sq. ft. home which originally had electric baseboard (1.5 or 2 cents per kilowatt hour in 1975). We mainly heated with six cords of wood (since 1976), but after all these years we wanted to add centralized heat! Having been to Denmark, I was made aware of pellet heating systems, and was excited to learn this technology had made it to the United States through your sister company, ReVision Heat.

I learned that we were the first to combine this new fully-automated feed system pellet boiler with solar hot water. Whenever the solar hot water tank needs more heat, the Kedel is set up to run automatically to supply that heat.

Christensen SHW plus pellets

A recent study (Maine Forest Service, 2011) found that Maine’s forests could sustainably heat 10-25% of the homes in Maine using the wood pellet resource. It’s a resource that we can and should effectively manage. And of course, the solar resource is unlimited.

What do you like best about the system now that it’s installed?

Well as I said, I was impressed that the payback on the solar hot water system as it appears the pay back will be less than the predicted 7-8 years (assuming propane does not increase in price). But from a societal perspective, it’s really important to me that people can see the system, understand how it works, and then become involved themselves. Once one solar energy system appears in a community, many more will surely follow as observed in my trips to the Town of Greenfield, Massachusetts. That’s what the Solarize Sacopee initiative is all about.

We have to be honest – we must lead from the bottom since we are not being lead from the top. We are facing catastrophic environmental changes due to our use of fossil fuel energy and it effects our society negatively in so many other ways. I recommend watching two short, 15 minute TED talks. Rear Admiral Titley concerning such events. (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxPentagon-Rear-Admiral-David) and the former Chief Climatologist of NASA, James Hansen (http://www.ted.com/talks/james_hansen_why_i_must_speak_out_about_climate_change).

When I started working at Lake Region High School in Bridgton back in 1972, there were solar hot water panels on the roof that produced about 500 gallons of hot water a day for the school. That system was not kept up and then we had no renewable energy until towards the end of my career. In 2009, the forward looking school district (SAD 61) installed a fully automated pellet boiler for the entire school. A deliver truck fills a 20-ton hopper providing the fuel for the entire school for a minimum of two weeks in the coldest season.

The possibilities are very impressive when we implement the new technologies, and we should improve access for those who wish to utilize renewable systems, but cannot yet afford them. If the effective interbank rate for loans continues to be zero, then zero percent loans should be available for renewable energy projects.

 


ReVision Partners with Community Organizers to Kick Off “Solarize Sacopee”

March 23rd, 2015 by Fred Greenhalgh
Parsonsfield, Maine - Solar

Lyn Sudlow’s home on Dragonfly Pond (Parsonsfield, Maine) boasts two solar hot water collectors arranged in an awning mount and six solar PV collectors (far left). Her neighbors are now eligible for a group discount through “Solarize Sacopee”

ReVision has kicked off the first grassroots-organized Solarize program in Maine, dubbed “Solarize Sacopee” and compassing the Southwestern Maine towns of Cornish, Limerick, Limington, Maplewood, Newfield, Parsonsfield and Waterboro.

The program follows similar “Solarize” efforts in Maine, New Hampshire, and elsewhere – anyone in the service towns can sign up before a given deadline (June 1), and as more people sign up, a greater volume discount will be available to everyone. Discounts will range $200-$600 depending on size of system and how many people sign up during the campaign.

Solarize Sacopee came to be thanks to a grassroots group, Ossipee Towns for Sustainability. The members of the OTFS get together to follow the ‘transition town’ model, a movement that started in the UK that works to get a community to be fiscally local – encompassing food, transportation, and, of course, energy.

We spoke to OTFS member Peter Christensen (more on him in our customer FAQ this month) about how the group got interested in solar. Peter told us that:

Most of us at OTFS were curious about solar, but we were not sure where to start. We initially did a ‘Make Your Own Solar Panel’ workshop – we had an expert from New York present an all day workshop where we learned how to solder together silicon cells and weatherproof them to build a 65-watt solar module. It was a great learning experience, but when we did the math, we determined that it is more economically viable to buy commercially made modules than to make your own!

The next phase was us trying to figure out how to find a local commercial solar installer. I actually learned about ReVision Energy because one of their staff members was in an anti-tar sands rally. I thought, ‘This is a company who has a passion for what they are doing.’ Ultimately we had Jen Hatch come out to do a talk in a very informal living room setting, which created much enthusiasm. The idea of us coming together as a “Solarize” Community was born.

Details (and signup) for Solarize Sacopee at: http://www.solarizesacopee.com/

We’d also be happy to organize a Solarize campaign in YOUR town or city, contact ReVision Energy to get things started!