Sanford, Maine - Solar Power
Energy conservation had been on Cliff Babkirk’s mind for years, but it reached a head in 2008 when he received an invoice from his heating oil company for $5,000 for a pre-paid contract. “I knew I had to do something different,” he says, “I wanted to get off oil for environmental reasons already but now I had economic reasons too.”

His search for an alternative heating system initially lead him to geothermal, though quotes of up to $50,000 for a retrofit installation made the project uneconomical. Instead, he learned of an similar, but significantly less costly solution – the Acadia air source heat pump.

Immense Savings with Electric Heat

Made by a Maine company, the Acadia offered many of the same benefits as a geothermal system, and integrated with most of Babkirk’s existing system – including his air handler and duct work. He had the unit installed before the 2008 heating season, and estimates it saved him $3,200 after the first year alone!

Of course, the drop in heating oil costs were offset, in part, by a rise in electricity costs to run the heat pump. Babkirk also had an energy audit done and learned that his basement and attic were two big culprits for energy loss. So, for his next step, he set about to better insulate the trouble spots in his house, and then to offset the electric load of his heat pump with solar electricity.

In 2009 he added 2″ of rigid foam insulation to his basement walls (,) added closed cell sprayed foam to his rim joists, and undertook some serious air sealing work. In 2010, he pulled out much of his home’s existing attic insulation and replaced it with super-dense R49 blow-in cellulose insulation. Finally, in 2011, he added grid-tied photovoltaic installed by ReVision Energy to offset his electric usage. His initial goal was to drop his load of 16,000 kWh a year to around 10,000 kWh a year – his electricity baseline prior to the installation of the air source heat pump.

Solar Exceeding Expectations

“Our goal was to be producing around 500 kWh/month with solar and so far the system has exceeded our expectations,” Babkirk says, “The best part is that the energy I’ve paid for today with my solar panels is never subject to a rate change. I’ve locked in the cost of a portion of my electricity for the next 20-25 years at a rate below current utility prices. In addition, through the benefits of net-metering, CMP gives me a credit on my bill for excess electricity produced by the array that I don’t use.”

More Solar Power on the Horizon

While he’s made great progress already, Cliff plans to take his 30% federal tax credit from his first PV array and use it to buy more panels. “My goal is to get to 50% of my energy use being offset by PV,” he says. He and his wife plan to stay in their current home – overlooking a pond in Sanford, Maine – well into retirement, and so the idea of getting control over their utility costs is immensely comforting.

“We like the idea of reliable systems and predictable costs,” he says, “Currently our oil boiler is nothing but a fancy hot water system and a backup source of heat when we lose power or should the Acadia system require maintenance… And once we can find an alternative backup heat source I like even better, we will finally have a fossil-free house.”

In the meantime, Cliff can expect to generate over 6,576 kilowatt hours of clean, renewable electricity annually, while offsetting roughly 8,812 lbs. of CO2 emissions that would be generated from coal, natural gas, or liquid fuel power plants.