Solar awakening

“People are solar-new in Connecticut. They never see it and they don’t know it works.” That was Ben Kunz, speaking to a reporter about the new solar panels on the roof of his house in Cheshire. Kunz wanted to go green and also save some money on electricity, but without taking on the big investment in equipment that buying a solar power system would require. Although buying a system would have entitled him to apply for certain state rebates and a $3,000 federal tax credit, his solution was to lease a system, which has enabled him to lower his electricity bills from about $220 a month to $140 or $150 (including the $115 lease payment) without going into debt.

People in this part of the country may not realize it, but you don’t have to live in the desert to benefit from residential solar power, suppliers in the industry say; it can also work here, despite our long, cold winters.

And a roof doesn’t necessarily have to face south; any direction but due north might be feasible, depending on the angle of the roof and other factors.

Now there appears to be another option for Cheshire residents who wish to “go solar”: the town has joined a state grant program called the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, which will make it easier for companies and residents to make the transition. A homeowner would typically pay around $20,000 for a solar power system, but CEFIA could rebate half of that, according to Tim White, of the Cheshire Solar Choice program.

And if solar power can work for a house in Cheshire, why not for a school in Southington? The town has a program to increase the energy efficiency of all town-owned buildings, through moves that have included retrofitting schools with energy-efficient windows and lights, and the high school is the latest target. The Board of Education is looking at a proposal to replace Southington High’s almost-40-year-old hot water system with a new one that would use a combination of solar power and natural gas, and would save money. Given how huge SHS is, that could be quite a bit of money. Better yet, according to the potential supplier, DBS Energy, changing over would not require downtime and no hazardous materials would be involved.

Although Cheshire’s Solarize Connecticut program has suffered a delay, there are other bright spots when it comes to solar power in this area: The Meriden Housing authority has installed solar panels and other improvements on one building at its Yale Acres project; and solar panels on the roofs of Wallingford’s Lyman Hall and Sheehan high schools will be incorporated into the curriculum, as has been done at Cheshire High.

Conserving fuel and saving money? No big down payments or loans for homeowners? No downtime and no hazmats for the municipalities to deal with? Teaching opportunities at schools? If solar retrofits can bring all those benefits, maybe this state won’t stay “solar-new” for much longer.



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