September 21, 2014

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Sun providing clean – and green – energy in Williston

Sept. 29, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Lisa Dwyer points to a kilowatt readout on the solar energy inverter in the basement of her Ledgewood home. The Dwyers’ rooftop system generates 8.41 kilowatts of electricity per month, enough to power their home and surrounding neighborhood. (Observer photos by Adam White)

Most people dread opening their electricity bills. But for Lisa Dwyer, envelopes from Green Mountain Power contain nothing but good news.

One of 20 town residents to have taken advantage of special incentives under the Solar Williston program, Dwyer’s Ledgewood home is now powered exclusively by the sun. A total of 44 German-made, photovoltaic panels were installed on the building’s roof earlier this spring, and the resulting solar energy system produces three times the amount of electricity needed to power the home.

“This is my latest electric bill,” Dwyer said, holding up a statement showing mostly negative numbers. “As of right now, Green Mountain Power owes me 529 dollars and 89 cents.”

Dwyer and her husband, Peter, wanted to tap into the potential of their home — which enjoys clear, southerly exposure — shortly after moving in two years ago. They saw an advertisement for Williston Solar in the local newspaper, and decided to explore the concept further.

Solar Williston is a campaign launched by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group aimed at bringing interested customers together in order to promote and encourage the implementation of solar energy systems. By creating a collective of customers, VPIRG has also been able to negotiate discounts with solar contractors like Alteris Renewables, allowing Willistonians to purchase systems at significant savings — even as they take advantage of other rebates and tax credits offered for switching to solar.

Similar cooperatives have been set up in Vermont towns such as Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Waterbury.

“The response has been fantastic,” said Dan Conant, VPIRG’s Solar Community Coordinator. “It’s been really exciting to see how much enthusiasm and interest there has been for the whole program. Between all the towns involved, we’ve got close to 100 families who have been able to participate.”

Dwyer said the process couldn’t have been easier. Solar Williston set up a site evaluation that confirmed the Ledgewood’s home’s enormous energy potential, and the Dwyers were pleasantly surprised at how streamlined — and affordable — it was to set up even a large-scale system such as theirs.

“They take care of everything, from the site assessment, to permitting, to the actual installation. We didn’t have to put any of the pieces together,” Lisa Dwyer said. “And the discounts are what really made it doable. Between the VPIRG discount, the rebate from the state and the 30 percent tax credit, it basically cut the cost in half.”

Since having 44 solar panels installed on the roof of their Ledgewood home, Williston’s Lisa and Peter Dwyer have been able to generate three times the electricity they typically use per month — and sell the excess energy back to Green Mountain Power.

Dwyer’s system became operational in April, at which time “their meter starting running backwards,” in the words of Conant. The energy gathered by the panels enters the home as direct current, and is changed to alternating current by a wall-mounted inverter in the basement.

And while the meter spins fastest on bright, sunny days, cloudy skies do not equate to power outages for the solar-powered home.

“Any light at all, you’re producing something,” Dwyer said. “As soon as day breaks, we’re producing kilowatts — even if it’s overcast.”

Dwyer said the system generates approximately three times the electricity the home requires — even with central air conditioning — and the excess is bought back by Green Mountain Power and distributed to other homes in the neighborhood.

“Green Mountain pays six cents for every kilowatt we produce, and 14 cents for every kilowatt we give back,” she said. “We figure that at this rate, the system will pay for itself in nine or 10 years — maybe sooner.”

But Dwyer said the decision to go solar was never about money; it was about supporting and promoting alternative energy sourcing. She and her husband hosted a Solar Williston open house on Sept. 22, during which anyone interested was allowed to view the system — and the family’s latest electricity bill — in order to better understand how to put solar power to use for themselves.

“We had a wonderful turnout,” Dwyer said. “Twenty people came, and a lot of them were pleased with the money part of it and how affordable it’s been made by the program.”

The Dwyers’ electric meter has been ‘running backward’ since April.

Conant said the deadline for applying for Solar Williston is Dec. 1, and that special, low-cost solar loans are also available to qualified customers.

“It has never been easier to go solar, and it’s bringing a lot of people out of the woodwork who have always been interested in this,” he said.

On the web: www.SolarWilliston.org

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