Temple homeowner, volunteers team up for a money-saving installation solar panels 

Gary Nielsen of Temple grew up with Depression Era parents, and it was routine in his house to conserve energy whenever possible. Lights were turned off when they weren’t being used, and recycling and conservation were second nature.

Now as an adult, with his own home in Temple, Nielsen is taking his conservation efforts a bit farther, by becoming the first to be on the receiving end of a Monadnock nonprofit’s effort to make solar power more pervasive and more affordable for the region.

Last Saturday, a group of volunteers from around the Monadnock region gathered at Nielsen’s Temple home to fulfill a wish that Nielsen and his wife have had for years: to install solar power on the roof of their garage to heat their hot water. And while Nielsen had to front the cost for the materials, the installation didn’t cost him any more than the price of feeding the volunteers.

Nielsen paid $5,500 for an 80-gallon hot water tank, and two panels from SunMaxx Solar, a New York-based company that specializes in solar panels for hot-water heaters. Nielsen said he expects to recover at least $1,500 of his expenses in tax incentives and rebates.

Monadnock Energy Resource Initiative, or MERI, volunteers came together on Saturday and installed his solar panels — normally a $2,000 cost — for free in the space of a day.

“I thought this was a fantastic way for neighbors to help neighbors invest in solar energy who might otherwise be stymied by the price,” said Nielsen in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday.

MERI is an all-volunteer community energy conservation organization that’s dedicated to making the region’s energy efforts a little easier through what they refer to as barnraising style solar installations and weatherizations, in which neighbors come together and join in to complete the work in the space of a day.

“It was just the little things throughout the day that really struck me,” said Nielsen of his installation. “Whether it was someone being there to unload the truck, or helping to set up the staging on the roof, everyone was in it together.

Many minds and many hands makes for very light work.”

MERI is a fairly new group, having just completed its first year as an organization.

They have been making inroads in conducting energy audits and weatherizations for local homes and businesses. A similar group, Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative, or PEREI, trained MERI’s volunteers to install solar panels. And as the final part of this training program, MERI ran its first solar panel installation on Nielsen’s home — the first of hopefully many more to come.

When Nielsen and his wife, Connie Rinaldo, bought their house 10 years ago, they noted it was located in full sunlight. While that can make scorching summer days particularly uncomfortable, it also made their home a prime location to benefit from solar energy.

According to Bev Edwards of Temple, the coordinator of MERI, Nielsen was one of the first people that expressed an interest in having solar panels installed on his home in order to heat his hot water when the group initially began. And on Saturday, the group came together to make the installation finally happen.

“It was incredible,” said volunteer Peter Martel of Bennington. “It went very well, especially for our first install.”

Some people in New England balk at investing in solar energy, because New England isn’t an area with high amounts of sunlight year round, like areas in the desert southwest, said Edwards. But solar energy does have the potential to power a good portion of it, and has a relatively fast pay off rate.

“We get a lot of sunny days, and there’s a lot of solar energy,” she said.

Even in his high-sun area, Nielsen said he won’t get 100 percent of his hot water from solar energy, but it will cover up to 75 percent of it, and for Nielsen the savings he’ll get from it is worth it. Especially since the panels will pay for themselves in energy savings in a maximum of three to five years. After that, with the sun providing a free fuel source, Nielsen will simply be reaping the benefits.

The volunteers for the group all say that solar energy is just a piece of the energy puzzle that will reduce dependence on fossil fuel and save residents money in the long run as gas and oil prices go up.

“Oil prices are volatile, unpredictable and trending upward. We know that fossil fuels are affecting the climate, and I hate to think about that for my grandkids and great-grandkids,” said Edwards. “I would like to leave them a world more like the one that I was raised in. We have to make a change and this is a step in that direction.”

While the barn-raising style isn’t for everyone, volunteer Dwight Schenk of Rindge said he hopes increasing the usage of solar panels will raise the awareness of the region, and increase commercial buying as well.

“My personal goal is to see solar panels up on every south-facing roof that’s not blocked by trees,” he said. “These days, I tend to drive around and watch the sun hit roofs and think about how much solar energy is going to waste.”

Martel agreed. “The less money we have to spend on oil, propane or wood, the better,” said Martel. “The sun is just sitting there, and it’s producing free energy. All you have to do is harvest it.”

And for those who can’t afford or aren’t interested in solar energy, the group is also heavily involved in providing energy audits and winterization for homes, which can also provide significant payback when it comes to the energy being saved.

“The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use because you’ve figured out how to make your home more energy efficient,” said Edwards.

The group will be running a hands-on weatherization training led by volunteer energy auditors on Oct. 13 at Peterborough’s River Center, on Nov. 3 at a residence in Keene and on Nov. 10 at Nature’s Classroom in Hancock. For more information on participating in any of these events, or information on upcoming energy audit workshops, contact Bev Edwards by emailing nadesha@msn.com.

MERI is also conducting a raffle for a free professional-grade home energy audit by Ted Stiles of Peterborough, valued at $625. Tickets are available at the Harvest Fair in Rindge on Oct. 6 or from by contacting Edwards.

Tickets are free, with a limit of one entry per person.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

She’s on Twitter at@AshleySaari.

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