Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

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

Monday, March 30th, 2015
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. ( and the former Chief Climatologist of NASA, James Hansen (

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.


An energy-efficient, solar-powered home in Canterbury

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

mcguinn-smith-house-canterbury-nhPowered by the sun and heated with not one drop of fossil fuel, Ruth Smith and Beth McGuinn’s home reflects their commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency—and a passion to share their knowledge and home with others.

The two-story, 1,800-square-foot saltbox-style home, called FeatherLeaf Farm, has been opened to the public during several home and garden tours hosted by church, community and green building groups—both during and after construction.

“We wanted to build a green, energy-efficient home that would be accessible to people,” she says. “We want to show this is a house anybody can build. We didn’t want it to be a complicated science project.”

Full article available here:

Near Net Zero on a Community Scale

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

belfast cohousing solar
In December 2013, an ice storm caused an extended power outage in Maine, leaving many residents scrambling to keep their pipes from freezing. But even with no utility electricity for five days, below-freezing temperatures, primarily overcast conditions, and no supplemental heat, the homes at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E) lost only 2°F a day, on average, for a total drop of 8°F to 10°F. Nearby homes, by contrast, were below freezing after 24 hours.

Although the homes aren’t certified, the Passive House Institute US standards guided the design process. A southerly orientation; generous south-facing glazing; triple-pane windows and doors; lots of insulation; airtight construction; and a compact footprint resulted in a 90% reduction in the energy used for space heating compared to the average house. The homes share walls, reducing the exterior surface area and heat loss to the outside.

Full article is available here:

Durham natives provide low-cost solar energy

Monday, December 29th, 2014

sunraise-logoSunRaise Investments, a solar energy financing company started this year by Durham natives, eventually will save an estimated $60,000 in electricity costs for The White Mountain School in Bethlehem.

The deal is based on a long-term energy contract, called a power purchase agreement, in which the school agrees to host the 43kW solar array on its roof and purchase the electricity being produced. SunRaise then provides the school with below market electricity that insulates the school from volatile price spikes associated with fossil fuels.

“The dialogue has changed in a wonderful way. It’s no longer just the right thing to do, it’s also the cost-effective way to source electricity,” says Jackson.

SunRaise partnered with ReVision Energy, a local solar energy company to install the system. ReVision has installed almost 4,000 residential solar systems in New Hampshire and Maine as well as dozens of commercial systems, advancing solar in the region for more than 11 years.

Full article available here:

Retired Mill Worker Invests Solar to Further Self-Sufficiency

Monday, December 15th, 2014
Bob & Bonnie Morrison of Norridgewock Go Solar

Bob and Bonnie Morrison stand in front of their pole-mount solar electric array by their home in Norridgewock, Maine

For Bob Morrison of Norridgewock, solar was something he’d dreamed of for decades. Upon retiring in 2011 after working for nearly thirty years at the Sappi Fine Paper Mill in Skowhegan, he decided to take self-sufficiency to a new level. In addition to having an enviable garden, various apple trees and a knack for canning and freezing, Bob and his wife Bonnie can now harvest sunshine for their energy needs.

Their first step toward an energy-smart home was to install a TED (The Energy Detective), a small monitoring device that can tell homeowners how much power is being used and where. With the help of this tool, the Morrisons cut their energy use in half from roughly 600 kilowatt hours a month to just over 300. “We consolidated our freezers, put appliances on timers, and cut back on using the dryer – we use the clothesline whenever we can,” says Bob. “I must look at the TED twenty times a day.”

Knowing that the costs of solar had come down substantially in recent years, Bob did some online research and was soon in touch with John Luft from ReVision’s Liberty branch. The reduction in their electric usage meant that Bob and Bonnie’s first solar array – a 7 kilowatt rooftop system featuring twenty-six USA-made solar panels installed in winter of 2013 – not only covered their household electric usage, but also allowed them to power their Chevy Volt using solar energy.

“I was able to get the $2,000 (Efficiency Maine) rebate before the program expired, so my first installation cost roughly $13,500 after the rebate and federal tax credit,” says Bob. After combining his CMP savings from solar with the gasoline saved with their electric car, Bob figures his first solar installation will pay for itself in roughly six and a half years. “I consider myself an investor – I’ve invested in stocks and now I’ve invested in solar.”

Expanding Solar to Heat and Cool

Norridgewock, ME Solar - Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF

This pole-mounted solar electric array will provide plenty of electricity to power these two electric cars, the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF

ReVision is currently working with Bob and Bonnie to install two pole-mounted arrays for another 7.2 kilowatts of solar capacity. In addition to protecting themselves against anticipated CMP rate hikes in early 2015, Bob and Bonnie will now have homegrown kilowatt hours to power their mini-split heat pump and heat pump water heater, as well as their second vehicle, a Nissan LEAF, further reducing their need to purchase fossil fuels for their vehicles or their home. As Bob says, “Whether or not you believe in climate change, why defile the only planet you can live on?”

And though natural gas lines go right by their house, the Morrisons decided not to hook up, citing volatile and uncontrollable costs. “Natural gas appears cheap now, but it won’t be for long,” says Bob. “And as long as the sun comes out, we’ll have solar energy right here.”

Now every time the sun shines, the Morrisons can take heart that regardless of what happens to fuel and electric prices, they’ve locked in costs for years to come. “I don’t have a fuel bill,” says Bob, “not for my house or my cars. I’m a Mainer – I like to be self-sufficient. For me, solar is a no brainer – I only wish I could have done it sooner.”