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Dr. Lee Wesler  

A homeowner shares his experience on the switch to solar power. More....

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- by Lee Wesler, a member of the Woodstock Conservation Commission, with editing by Bet Zimmerman.
Part of a three part series - see Part I | Part II | Part III

And we’re on – the grid that is.  At 2:47 p.m., January 24, 2008, our home became the world’s newest power plant.  The sun is out and the meter is literally running backwards.  We are generating 11,500 kilowatts/year of pollution-free electricity.  Power feeds in during the day (more or less, depending on how cloudy it is), and is used when it’s dark. The net result is 100% free electricity, as our system more than meets all our electrical needs. Take that Mr. Coal, Mr. Oil and Mr. Nuclear. 

Solar power. Photo by Bet Zimmerman
A small solar panel can be used to power a traffic light. An array on a roof can power an entire house.

Our decision to put up solar panels was far from sudden.  In fact, it dates back to my wife’s college days (let’s just say some time in the last century and leave it at that).  Hanging around with her engineering buddies at RPI between classes (and I’m sure between beers), they dreamed of saving the world with a clean energy revolution.  

Through our pre and post- nuptial days, we toyed with the idea of a solar home.  But when we built our house in 1996, oil was cheap, and global warming was an emerging theory.  Solar energy technology was still in its infancy, and for a couple paying back school loans, it was cost prohibitive.
Jump to the here and now.  The world’s unchecked appetite for energy has increased exponentially.  Climate change is happening.  Each year consistently sets a new record as the warmest in recorded history.  Ocean levels are slowly rising.  Geopolitical issues are exploding as the world’s need for oil threatens national political structures.  

Fortunately, alternative energy technologies are rapidly improving.  Solar energy has become more efficient and less expensive, especially when subsidized. The State of CT decided in October of 2004 that it wanted to be green. To back up that goal, they are offering a rebate (about 50%) on solar electricity projects through CL&P.  (Note: the rebate program does not include solar water heating.)  Woodstock exempts solar projects from its property tax. What’s more, the Federal government currently offers a $2,000 income tax write off for solar systems. You can factor everything into a tax refund estimator to get a better idea of what to expect at tax time.

With the “think globally, act locally” concept in mind, we decided that now was the time to do what we could to reduce our family’s energy footprint.  After attending a presentation at the Woodstock Town Hall by SolarWrights, we chose them to install our system.  Please note there are other firms in New England putting up solar systems - see www.sebane.org for a list.

Next week, I’ll share how we decided what type of system to install, the steps involved, problems and results.

Note:  If you want some of your energy to come from a clean, green source, but aren’t ready to install your own system, you have another option.  Any CL&P customer can sign up for energy from wind, landfill gas, or small hydroelectric generation.  Once 100 Woodstock customers sign up to purchase renewable energy through www.ctcleanenergyoptions.com, the Town will receive a free solar energy system from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund.  So far, 58 Woodstock households are on board. In addition, you can reduce your home energy needs by switching to Energy Star appliances, and through simple techniques like turning off the lights when not needed.  In fact, if all Americans switched to compact florescent light bulbs, we could close down 80 coal-fired plants. 

See Part II

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on February 29, 2008

Originally published


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