Brett VandenHeuvel, the executive director of the nonprofit environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, celebrated the Fourth of July by installing solar panels at his house in the Columbia Gorge and working to achieve, what he calls, energy independence. Here’s what he did to reduce his use of fossil fuel energy:
On Independence Day, my family turned on our new solar panels to power our home, taking steps to declare independence from fossil fuel energy. Along with being more efficient to use less energy, the solar panels will power nearly 100 percent of our home’s energy use.
Like most people, our family has a long ways to go to kick the fossil fuel habit. But I’m excited to choose solar over the coal-fired power plants and hydroelectric dams that currently power our home.
We are also replacing our old natural gas furnace with a high-efficiency electric heat pump, powered by the sun.
As someone who works to protect clean water and fights dirty fossil fuel projects, I can’t wait to shut off the gas and do my small part to reduce fracking, new pipelines and carbon pollution.
What took me so long?
I don’t know. Maybe I thought solar was too expensive and too complicated.
I’ve seen solar panels go up on dozens of homes and businesses in my small town, but never pulled the trigger. Too expensive? There are up-front costs, but after a few years, the 3-kilowatt system pays for itself.
We paid $12,228 up front, but the final system cost is just $2,560 after four years, factoring in the rebates and tax incentives. And I will save that much on my energy bill.
So after four years the system pays for itself, while increasing the value of my home. A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy survey found buyers are willing to pay more for homes with solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems.
People have been telling me that solar pencils out for years—better late than never.
Is it complicated? No.
Nonprofit and government programs exist throughout our region to help people get started on solar. In the Columbia Gorge where I live, a nonprofit called Gorge Owned launched GO! Solar to make residential PV systems easier in Hood River, Wasco and Skamania counties by working with utilities, local government and nonprofit partners.
Gorge Owned and my contractor, Common Energy, did all the paperwork and worked with my utility to set up net-metering.
While residential solar is not feasible for everyone—you must own your home, have good solar access and be able to afford the up-front costs—it really pencils out for many people.
Other drawbacks are it requires research. But in my case, a nonprofit organization and the contractor did all of the research. They conducted the solar analysis (how much sun is available on our roof, considering the roof aspect and trees) and gave me a bid. It does not cost anything, or take much time, to get a bid.
I evaluated the bid and increased the size of the system slightly over what the contractor proposed. He suggested a system that would cover 90 percent of our power use, and I asked him to increase to 100 percent.
The contractor took it from there.
Just like any purchase, you could research it forever. But there are trained professionals who are there to help. This is especially true with solar because nonprofit organizations like Solar Oregon are promoting solar and have excellent resources.
Another hesitation may come from a homeowner who doesn’t like the look on the roof and doesn’t know the resale value if they sell. I can’t speak others, but I think it looks cool.
Our roof only had only one spot that worked but other homeowners will hear from the contractor where the panels could be positioned.
Last night, a neighbor down the street came over to introduce himself because he watched the solar installation and wanted to learn more. We don’t have a fancy car, but maybe our flashy solar panels will be the envy of the neighborhood.
My family’s simple rooftop solar is good for energy independence, good for our planet and good for our finances. That’s something to celebrate.
Columbia Riverkeeper works to restore and protect the Columbia River.
The original article can be found HERE at Oregonlive.com