Lebanon Promotes the Power of Solar
The use of solar power has risen dramatically in the past 5 years in the U.S., with 1 million homes operating on solar as of February 2016. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar installation continues to fall, and solar technology is becoming more efficient. The opportunities to install solar have never been more plentiful.
Lebanon, New Hampshire is no exception to this rule. Since 2016, over 58 private residences and businesses have applied for solar permits. This would have not been possible however, without Vital Communities Solarize initiative in the Upper Valley, which worked to convince locals to go solar.
The initiative started in 2015 to promote solar energy in 24 towns in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. After two years, the program almost doubled the amount of homes in the area whose owners committed to solar installation with Lebanon alone hosting 42 new solar contracts. Part of the program’s success was the federal and state tax credits, as well as discounts and financing offered by the solar companies that volunteered to be a part of the initiative.
According to Sarah Brock, who is the energy program manager at Vital Communities, the reason Vital Communities was so successful was because of the many community members spreading the positive message about solar. In a study done during the Solarize Connecticut program, Brock said researchers discovered the importance of community in promoting solar energy.
“They have found incredible evidence that having people around you, people in your neighborhood who have gone solar, significantly increases the chances that you are going to go solar,” said Brock. The wave of people committing to solar in the area created a snowball effect which helped the market for solar in the region grow, even after the Solarize initiative ended.
This positive message compelled another leader in the community to make the investment in solar as well. AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire finished installing a solar system on their two buildings in 2016 with net zero energy usage. This means that AVA does not pay for any energy from local utilities, solely relying on their solar panels and net metering to receive credit for the energy they give back to the grid. For them, it’s really about promoting clean and sustainable energy for the community.
“AVA exists on a three legged stool that’s our foundation and one of those legs is environmental stewardship,” said Trip Anderson, executive director at AVA. “So it’s really a part of AVA’s mission to be environmentally responsible and to do everything we can to create green buildings, and solar renewable energy is certainly one of those initiatives we wholly, whole heartedly endorse.”
This would not have been possible for the gallery without receiving a rebate from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission totaling $28,000. State legislation has helped companies and individuals go solar by offering rebates and tax incentives for their investment in clean energy. This large installation for AVA’s two buildings that included 140 solar panels, actually bumped Lebanon, New Hampshire into the next tier of funding. “Everybody in the city who had a renewable energy project got an additional amount of funding rebate for participating,” said Anderson. This allowed Lebanon, New Hampshire residents to receive a rebate 30 percent of the cost of installation.
Many residents took advantage of the Solarize Lebanon program to achieve their own sustainable energy goals. Liane and Andrew Avery of Lebanon specifically searched for a house which would be able to accommodate their own ground-mounted tracker solar panels. “We were really wanting to be net zero and environmentally friendly, so I knew that the solarize program was coming, and we were actually looking for houses at the time. So, we were trying to pick a house that would have the potential to add solar on purpose,” said Liane Avery.
Their solar system benefited by the solarize program as well. They received a federal tax credit and a rebate from the New Hampshire’s renewable energy fund. In the future, the Avery’s hope to turn further away from energy such as fossil fuels and replace their propane heating system with wood pellet boilers. “It’s not perfect but it’s much cleaner than oil and then we would try to balance our heat between the heat pumps and the wood pellet boilers,” explained Avery. Others took the initiative to invest in clean energy even before the solarize initiative started.
Linda Shirley of Lebanonfirst bought fifteen solar panels in 2006. “I figured I would start by getting the solar panels that I could afford at that time, and then eventually I could add more solar panels and switch my heating system,” said Shirley, which she eventually did in 2016.
Of course, the Solar initiative wouldn’t be possible without solar companies such as Energy Emporium, that participated in the solarize initiative, and continue to advocate for renewable energy. Kimberly Quirk, founder and manager of Energy Emporium in Enfield, New Hampshire, has worked to promote sustainable energy both locally, and in the New Hampshire legislature to make solar installation more accessible for many residents.
Although some New Hampshire legislators are actively working to cut down on costs by trying to get rid of the renewable energy fund which gives rebates to participants in solar, The New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association, which Quirk is a part of, keeps fighting for these rebates to remain in place. “I have for quite a few occasions in the last couple of years, gone down to Concord and wrote up some testimony that says, I am a solar business in New Hampshire and these solar rebates are very important to our customers... So far we’ve kept it for the past few years,” said Quirk.