By George Harvey
In the pursuit of community resilience, one of the most active communities in New England is unquestionably Plymouth, New Hampshire. The Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI) is a leading organization in this pursuit. Co-Director Sandra Jones says, “PAREI’s goal is for every resident in the town to consider the issue of energy when making small and big decisions at home and at work. All we ask is that people ‘just think about it, think about how you choose to use energy and when you do choose to use it, take a minute to appreciate it.’ We believe this very exercise leads to constructive change.”
Considering the number of projects we see coming along with PAREI’s help, is seems clear that approach is working. Plymouth’s population is about 7,500, including a few hundred college students. Despite the town’s small size, a lot has been happening.
The latest numbers: a total of 24 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems with 101 KW of total nameplate capacity getting rebates in Plymouth. The total cost of facilities is $412k. PVs have been installed on the Pease Public Library and the Plymouth Elementary School. The town is also planning a solar PV array at the municipal recycling center.
A number of individuals are heavily involved. Dick Flanders is one of the town’s early adopters. He has been keeping track of his energy usage since the 1970s. Today, he has a solar thermal system installed by PAREI. He also has 4.59 kilowatts of solar PVs, which he calculates will have a payback time of a bit over twelve years. His other resilience efforts include large vegetable gardens at his home.
Steve Whitman and his family are restoring a late Victorian homestead, making the property a model permaculture project. They want to reduce their ecological footprint and have a positive environmental impact. Their improvements include insulation, air-sealing, an improved heating system with computer controls, and a composting toilet. Their upgrades use locally milled lumber, clay plaster, non-VOC coatings, and locally manufactured cabinets. They have worked to repair their soil and built gardens with a view to food security, habitat care, and consideration for pollinators.
The New Hampshire Electric Co-operative (NHEC) is working with Plymouth to upgrade its streetlights. The program began in 2012 and is aimed at increasing both efficiency and effectiveness of the lights. High pressure sodium streetlights are being replaced with new LED lights. Unnecessary or redundant lighting is being removed altogether. The project will continue in phases with remaining downtown and outlying areas scheduled for conversion by 2016.
We should note that the NHEC recently voted on a new net-meter cap. They raised the cap to 3.4 MW from the previous 3.16 MW because it was already oversubscribed at 3.24 MW. The NHEC decided on their own to do this; kudos to the NHEC.
Weatherization has not been neglected in Plymouth. The town is one of three New Hampshire communities chosen to participate in the Better Buildings program. This is a three-year grant-funded program undertaken by the town with help from the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning and the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority. Its purpose is to provide resources and financing for energy efficiency upgrades on commercial, industrial, municipal and residential buildings. Over the life of the program, Better Buildings helped oversee 36 residential and 21 commercial weatherization projects within Plymouth with an estimated annual cost savings of over $96,000 on participant’s energy bills.
Plymouth is providing an example other communities might follow to their own benefit.