Homeowners rush to install solar

  • Many buildings at the Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm have been outfitted with solar arrays for both individual homeowners and to serve community buildings. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Many buildings at the Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm have been outfitted with solar arrays for both individual homeowners and to serve community buildings. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Many buildings at the Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm have been outfitted with solar arrays for both individual homeowners and to serve community buildings. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • South Pack Solar installed a solar array at the Peterborough Players. Courtesy of Greg Blake—

  • The Harris Center in Hancock has a solar array installed by South Pack Solar. Courtesy of Greg Blake—

  • A residential installation by South Pack Solar. Courtesy of Greg Blake—

  • Battery storage areas that allows for solar arrays to continue to produce power when the grid is down are becoming more common. Courtesy of Greg Blake—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/26/2019 10:18:46 AM

Home and business owners thinking about installing a solar array have more of an incentive to do so before the end of the year.

Due to an upcoming change in the federal solar tax credit in 2020, those who have a completed installation before Dec. 31, 2019 can receive a 30 percent credit on their taxes filed next year. That percentage will dip slightly to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent the following year. And unless there is another extension agreed upon in Congress, the corporate tax credit will drop to 10 percent in 2022 and there will be no incentive for residential solar energy systems.

But beyond the credits received when filing tax returns, solar energy has become a mission for people like Dori Drachman of Peterborough.

Drachman had panels installed on her home in the Nubanusit Neighborhood & Farm co-housing community in Peterborough back in the early 2010s, and is currently the Peterborough campaign leader for Solarize Monadnock. The group is holding a kick-off event at the Peterborough Town House on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. where residents of Peterborough, Hancock and Sharon can learn about how the campaign works, meet installers and volunteers, ask questions and sign up for a free home solar evaluation. The purpose of the group is “to increase the number of homes and small businesses with solar panels in these towns.”

“Solar has gone done in price by 60 to 70 percent since 2010,” Drachman said. “There’s a lot more suppliers and a lot of demand for it around the world.”

There is also a kick-off event on March 14 at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge at 6:30 p.m. for residents and business owners in the towns of Rindge and Fitzwilliam. To take advantage of the program, people need to sign up by the end of June to guarantee installation by the end of the year.

“This allows for it to be financially available and logistically easier for people to get solar,” Drachman said. “And we hope and plan to do other rounds in future years that other towns can participate in.”

Drachman’s real passion is the reversal of climate change and solar is one way to help as it reduces the use of fossil fuels. A report released by the UN last fall caught Drachman’s attention. She said the report predicted there is only 12 years left till we pass the tipping point where climate change can be reversible.

“This is one way communities can be fighting and reversing climate change,” Drachman said. “And not only does this increase the number of solar panels in a community, but the number of engaged citizens working to reverse climate change, and that’s what we really need.”

Whether people sign up for the free evaluations or move forward with solar, Pat Martin, co-leader of the Rindge and Fitzwilliam effort, said the hope is to also bring awareness to the benefits of solar and how important it is to think of alternative ways to produce energy. As of now, Martin said there are 17 installations in the two towns and the goal of the campaign is to double that number by years end.

“What we’re looking for is to get 100 people at each of the kickoff events,” Martin said.

Martin was part of a similar campaign back in 2010 in the Jaffrey-Rindge area that resulted in a dozen or so residential installations.

For Greg Blake of South Pack Solar, not only is solar his life’s work, but it’s also his passion. The company has installed well over 100 systems in the area, including an estimated 60 percent of the arrays in Peterborough and 85 percent of Hancocks.

These days, Blake said installing solar is more appealing than it ever has. The components are getting better, costs have gone down and he only sees that trend continuing into the future. The 2018 Solar Tariff placed a 30 percent increase on solar imports to the United States, but coinciding with falling costs, the Presidential initiative has yet to make a big difference in the bottom line for individuals looking to add solar to their homes.

There are rebates available in New Hampshire for solar installations, which has been steady at about $1,000, but a small amount compared to the $6,000 it was about six years ago.

Blake said one of the driving forces behind solar purchases in the country is the tax credit. While the future percentages are not known beyond 2021, Blake said he expects it to be renewed before its eliminated for residential installations.

“It’s good for the country as a whole,” Blake said. “People love the idea of saving the planet and fighting off global warming.”

South Pack, which is one of just over 200 solar professionals in the world – and the only one in New Hampshire – to be accredited through Solar Energy International’s Solar Professionals Certificate Program, works with local contractors and electricians to provide a level of service that not only the customer, but his company can be proud of, Blake said.

No two arrays are the same, which is why Blake puts such importance on the site evaluation. He looks at the roof for condition, the capabilities of the electrical system and what kind of obstacles need to be addressed, like trees, for the installation to work at full strength.

While costs depend on the size of the array, which is a significant investment up front, Blake said on average it takes about seven to nine years for an installation to pay for itself. But designs are created with a 25-year life span, and Blake said there’s no reason it shouldn’t last much longer than that. He likes to look at it as another investment toward retirement.

“It equates to buying a new car, a really nice used one or a cheaper new car,” Blake said.

Blake cautioned against offers from some national companies offering free installations.

“The hairs on the back of you neck should standup when someone says you can get it for free,” Blake said.

These days, some people are taking it one step further and also opting for battery back-up systems placed in their basement or garage, which allows for an array to still produce power even if the grid goes down.

“You have security in a sense that people could be self sufficient,” Blake said. “As long as the sun comes out.”

There are so many variables that equate to the savings on one’s electric bill, but for Drachman, her installation has essentially eliminated her bill outside of her monthly fee to hook up fee to the grid.

“Solar is just a piece of the puzzle that people know about and can do individually,” Drachman said. “And we will be doing everything we can to let people know we’re here. We fell like we’ve got fertile ground here with a lot of people concerned with the state of the planet and what they can do about it.”

While solar has been around for five decades, Drachman sees a real excitement around it right now.

“I’d say it’s a quickly evolving process,” she said. “We are still seeing a steady growth of purchasing and installing solar panels.”

Martin said there is a current piece of legislation, Senate Bill 446, that could drastically change the way solar power is allowed in the state. The bill will increase New Hampshire’s current 1 megawatt cap to 5 megawatts. This will expand the amount of locally produced renewable electricity available through net metering to more businesses, municipalities and schools. The increase would then allow for businesses and municipalities to pursue renewable projects like solar.

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