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They’re helping neighbors go solar

TEMPLE — A local grassroots organization that sprang up in Temple a few years ago will be taking the next step in helping its neighbors live a more energy-independent life next month.

The Monadnock Energy Resources Initiative, or MERI, is an organization of volunteers who hold regular weatherization seminars, showing home and businesses owners how to seal their homes to reduce heating and cooling costs. And once in awhile, the volunteers will gather for a barn-raiser style solar installation on an area home.

The idea is for the volunteers help install the solar panels, to reduce the start-up costs and make solar more affordable for the average person. In the past, these installations have been pretty small, just a few panels to power a hot water heater. In June, the volunteers at MERI will be pairing with a professional solar installer to take the next step, and install enough photovoltaic solar panels to power all the electricity for a home with.

Bev Edwards of Temple, the coordinator for MERI, said the organization first became interested in learning more about installing photovoltaics when they discovered that the price of the panels has gone down significantly, making it more affordable for home owners to invest in them. But even though they are less expensive than they used to be, it is still a significant investment, said Edwards. Homeowners can expect to pay about $7,000 for the install, after rebates. That’s significantly more than the $3,000 after rebates it takes to install panels to power a hot water heater, and has a longer payback. But the system does eventually pay for itself in electricity savings within five to seven years, said Edwards, and after that, it’s essentially free electricity.

“In the long run, it’s more economical,” said Edwards. “It still will cost a little more, even with our volunteers, but it’s paid back, really in short order.”

It’s also a little more complicated for the volunteers, said Edwards. Installing photovoltaic panels requires the supervision of a master electrician. In the case of the panels MERI will be installing on June 14, Will Wildes of Temple will be volunteering his services.

It also takes a lot more expertise than the previous solar installations that MERI has been involved in, said Edwards. So, for this installation, and likely future photovoltaic installations, the MERI volunteers will be assisting a professional solar installer, Greg Blake of Peterborough.

“He is guiding and directing, and no one is putting a panel where he doesn’t say it goes,” said Edwards.

Using volunteers still greatly reduces the cost for the homeowners, said Edwards, which is MERI’s ultimate goal.

“Our goal is to help more people switch to renewables,” said Edwards. “What we’re all learning is we need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. We’re just trying to pitch in and do what we can. We’re just trying to make everything more affordable.”

On June 14, MERI volunteers will have their first photovoltaic installation, at a home in Fitzwilliam that belongs to Paul and Anne Harris. The couple lives in the home part of the year, and rents it out the rest, said Edwards. One of the exciting parts of this installation is that not only will the Harris’s get to see the effects of the solar installation, but so will everyone that uses their home the rest of the year.

“It will be an educational experience for the people that rent it, and that’s really a plus for us,” said Edwards.

Eventually, said Edwards, the goal will be to have all-volunteer teams doing photovoltaic installations, though it will always require the supervision of a master electrician.

To participate in MERI, or for more information, email monadnockenergyresources@gmail.com. To see several testimonials and a few weatherization and solar install photos go to www.monadnockenergy.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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