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DIY Solar: Here comes the sun

MONT VERNON – The idea of barn-raising is as old as New England farming – many hands make light work. Now a local group of volunteers has brought the idea to the 21st century goal of advancing renewable energy.

They are members of a nonprofit called HAREI (Hillsborough Area Renewable Energy Initiative), and they hold “energy raisers” where they plan and install residential solar systems. It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor approach – a homeowner can join for awhile, learn how to set up a system or two and then get help with their own system.

Some HAREI members were in the Daland Memorial Library last Saturday morning to explain what they do and how they do it.

“Solar works in New Hampshire,” said HAREI co-president Chris Kolb, of Mont Vernon, who talked about the three basic ways to acquire a solar system:

1. A power purchase agreement, essentially leasing the system. It involves no upfront costs but requires a long-term contract. HAREI doesn’t recommended it, Kolb said. Though it helps the environment, it can be a bad deal for the homeowner.

2. A professional installer, which is like having your home remodeled, Kolb said. You own everything, but it can be expensive and take fairly long to get a return on the investment.

3. Do it yourself, with HAREI. Members of the organization do a site review, give design assistance and on-the-job training. “You work on someone else’s project and they work on yours,” said Kolb, and it’s less expensive, because of its “solar raisers” and the volume discounts the nonprofit is able to get.

The audience of about two dozen people that squeezed into the library’s small meeting room had many questions and some had stories to tell about their experiences with solar.

Kolb, who put an installation on his home last September, used a slide show to go over the steps HAREI takes with each project, including the evaluation of a home’s potential.

HAREI also provides information on the incentives available and the permits required from Eversource and the town. Members show a homeowner how much power they use, how much sun they get, what the installation will cost and how long it will take to pay for itself. They help get the system connected and activated and help with rebates and tax credits.

Because solar installations increase property values, “it’s a good deal from the start,” Kolb said. You don’t need a perfect site, and it’s a myth that solar doesn’t pay in New Hampshire, he said, where cold weather and relatively clean air is good for the electronics involved.

HAREI is one of several regional energy initiatives in New Hampshire and has done projects in Amherst, Bedford, Hollis, Mont Vernon and Nashua. The group also gives advice on weatherization, energy efficient lighting, appliances, heating and air conditioning, including air source and geothermal heat pumps.

The 30 percent federal income tax credit decreases on Dec. 31, so HAREI has been hosting information sessions all over Hillsborough County. They meet twice a month in Bedford. For more information, go to HAREI.org.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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