The push for renewables
Solarize Monadnock campaign just the start of local clean energy effort
By TIM GOODWIN
Frank and Valerie Jenkins had been interested in solar energy for some time. They just never had a property that would get the right sun exposure to make installing panels a worthwhile investment.
Then two and a half years ago they moved to Peterborough and their new home was set up perfectly for a rooftop array. About a year after their move, the Jenkins heard about the Solarize Monadnock campaign and went to the kickoff meeting at the Peterborough Town House for the regional campaign covering the towns of Peterborough, Hancock, Rindge, Sharon and Fitzwilliam and what they heard made sense.
Soon they contacted ReVision Energy, the company chosen to perform the installation for those looking to make the switch to renewable energy through the campaign, and what Frank Jenkins found was that it was a seamless process.
Within two weeks of the initial call to ReVision, Jenkins said there was a site visit, a plan in place and a contract on the table.
“We were the first people to sign up,” Jenkins said. And on June 4, 2019, within six weeks of the first meeting with ReVision, Jenkins said the 26 panels were powering their home. They were one of 35 installations completed through the campaign in 2019 and according to numbers provided by the NH Public Utilities Commission, a total of 53 projects in the five towns filed for solar rebates that year, a dramatic increase from the 12 rebates filed for in 2018.
“Everything they did was like clockwork,” Jenkins said. “Every step of the way. Like a well-oiled machine.”
Jenkins said they chose to put the panels on the garage, which gets southern exposure, and are not obvious from the front of the house.
“We could have actually fit 37 panels,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said they opted not to install battery storage capabilities because of the increased cost, so the power they produce – which is more than they used in the first year – is sent to the grid at about a 70 cents on the dollar return.
“We haven’t had an electric bill in a while,” Jenkins said. And that’s even with adding electric heaters to offset some of their propane expense.
Jenkins estimates they saved $2,000 in the first year and the system will pay for itself in less than 10 years. Since the work was completed in 2019, Jenkins said they received a 30 percent tax credit, along with a $1,000 rebate from the state of New Hampshire, which brought the total price tag to around $17,000.
One of the reasons for the campaign was to allow those interested in solar to take advantage of the high tax credit for the year, said Dori Drachman, one of the organizers of Solarize Monadnock. Due to changes in the Federal Solar Tax Credit, the credit has gone down to 26 percent for 2020 and will decrease to 22 percent in 2021. After that, the credit will no longer be available to homeowners unless there is a change at the federal level.
“I am hopeful there will be a change in Congress and they will reinstate and increase the incentives,” Drachman said.
But it really was about bringing more renewable energy to the region.
“Our goal was to increase the number of solar installations in the area and whether or not they did it through the Solarize Monadnock campaign was not the be all, end all,” Drachman said. “It was really about there being more renewables in this area.”
From the very beginning, there was a lot of interest. Not everyone that inquired or went to one of the kickoff events actually had a system installed, but Drachman thinks the curiosity shows that more people want to invest in it.
“There was a lot of excitement and a lot of interest. I think people really were interested and are interested,” Drachman said. “And I think it’s an ongoing thing.”
Of course the upfront cost can be the most deciding factor, even if the system will eventually pay for itself down the road.
Drachman said there was another Solarize campaign set to start in Keene and Marlborough in March. But it had to switch to virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The hope is that in 2021 there will be another opportunity to do that in person,” Drachman said.
Fred and Linda Dodge of Rindge talked about switching to solar three or four years ago so when they heard about last year’s kickoff meeting at Franklin Pierce University they decided to go. And they were immediately sold.
But before they could move forward, Fred, a retired arborist, had to take down six large pine trees and prune three tall oaks because “they were just in the way,” he said.
Dodge said they opted for a 14 panel ground array installed by ReVision and the impact on their electric bill is hard to miss with the last one costing them $5.35.
“It worked out for us,” Dodge said. “We had (the money) and wanted to do a smart thing. The opportunity came along and we took it.”
Dodge called the decision a no brainer and he only has one regret.
“I wish we had done it sooner,” he said.
Pat Martin, who headed the Solarize campaign in Rindge and Fitzwilliam, said there were five done in Rindge alone, which was about the number they were hoping for.
“I’m grateful for all the people who took us up on it,” Martin said.
Martin said the initial interest was well over 100 people across the five towns, which means there are still a lot of folks toying with the idea of making the switch to solar.
“People may have to replace a roof or have some trees removed,” Martin said. “But this really helped raise the awareness.”
And Martin said she can’t wait to see what happens moving forward.
“We know the immediate impact, but we don’t yet know the long term impact,” she said.
And looking into the future, Drachman is excited about a couple initiatives happening in Peterborough. One is the Ready for 100 campaign, which if passed at Town Meeting, the town of Peterborough would commit to transitioning to 100 percent renewable for electricity by 2030 and heat and transportation by 2050. There are five cities and towns in New Hampshire who have passed the initiative, including Keene, Concord, Hanover, Plainfield and Cornish. According to the Sierra Club, more than 160 cities, more than ten counties, and eight states across the U.S. have goals to power their communities with 100 percent clean, renewable energy.
The launch was supposed to be at Peak Into Peterborough, so for now Drachman said its about having conversations with as many residents and stakeholders as possible. Because there needs to be a strong backing for it to pass and an actual commitment to it.
“One of the biggest concerns is this going to be an empty promise,” she said.
The other plan is centered around Community Power, an opportunity for a municipality to aggregate or reduce electricity rates and have more control over where its electricity comes from. The Community Power Law, NH SB 286, was passed in October.
“It’s really powerful mechanism to increase the percentage of renewables in the energy mix,” she said.
Drachman, who is also a member of the Monadnock Sustainability Hub and the Peterborough Energy Committee, said the purpose of the Solarize campaigns was to create a jumping off point for systemic solutions.
“Part of what we wanted to do with Solarize was to start the conversation and build that excitement around a future with renewables,” Drachman said.
Frank and Valerie Jenkins installed solar panels on their Peterborough home via Solarize Monadnock.
STAFF PHOTO BY BEN CONANT