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.
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.