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Local Area Energy Initiatives Lead the Charge for Affordable Renewables in NH

Installation of a 24 kW solar PV array at the Bridge House Homeless Shelter and Veteran’s Support in Plymouth, NH. Photo: PAREI.

Installation of a 24 kW solar PV array at the Bridge House Homeless Shelter and Veteran’s Support in Plymouth, NH. Photo: PAREI.

By Hope O’Shaughnessy

Three New Hampshire area energy initiatives are actively leading the way to provide easier and more affordable access to renewable energy throughout several areas of the Granite State. One of these projects has received federal technical assistance as part of a national energy challenge.

The Plymouth Area Energy Initiative (PAREI) began informally in 2003 in Plymouth, NH and today has grown to an organization of over 600 families and businesses. PAREI’s membership includes the communities surrounding Plymouth – from Sanbornton to Thornton and from Wentworth to Meredith. Under the leadership of Co-Directors Sandra Jones and Volunteer Co-Director Peter Adams PAREI has organized over 150 solar thermal, neighbor helping neighbor, energy raisers, has brought multiple grants to their community that have funded projects such as solar PV on the school and library, an energy audit for the town hall, a 120kW solar PV system at the Plymouth Water and Sewer Treatment Plant, solar thermal collectors for a residential home for the disabled and off grid solar PV hands on educational program for the Circle Program’s summer camp. In addition to their achievements in the Plymouth area thus far, PAREI is rolling out new efforts this June including the NH Solar Shares program.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Sun Shot Division selected NH Solar Shares as a national team for the Community Solar Challenge. NH Solar Shares in partnership with the NH Electric Cooperative is a program that will design and install solar PV arrays one community at a time for the purpose of sharing solar energy with low-income families, increasing the portion of clean renewable energy on our grid and contributing to building healthier, more sustainable communities.

The value of the solar energy produced by each array (85%) will be credited to a predetermined number of low income families’ electric bills per solar array. NH Solar Shares will also provide a basic energy education program too.

Each array will be inspired by a task force of local volunteers and be built using funds from grants, crowd funding, individual donors, fundraisers and the state’s solar incentive. The first goal is to build one PV array in Plymouth, NH and two more in near-by communities with the goal of installing 125kW worth of solar by the fall of 2018. The solar will be installed by NH solar installers (who will have an opportunity to bid on the projects) with the help of volunteers to prep the site.

Another example of an ambitious PAREI project came as a result of two other community organizations seeking PAREI’s assistance and expertise. More than two years ago, the directors of the Bridge House Homeless Shelter and the Whole Village Family Resource Center sought advice from PAREI about how solar PV could help them save money.

According to a press release about the project, the directors were looking to see “if we could save $20,000 a year in energy costs and instead apply those funds to programs for our clients.” By leading with PAREI’s motto of “Reduce (energy) before you Produce.” the three non-profits developed a whole building energy savings plan for the two buildings. Their vision was made possible through funding from the Thomas Haas fund at the NH Charitable Foundation (NHCF), USDA Rural Development and the CDFA Business Tax Credit program. PAREI acknowledges the key role NHCF’s funding played in supporting PAREI’s work as the designated project coordinator.

Ultimately, the Bridge House and Whole Village Family Resource Center’s energy project will result in over $22,000 annually in energy savings, according to PAREI’s news release. PAREI’s deliverables for the energy project’s work plan included: (1) a 24kW solar PV array at the Bridge House, (2) volunteer DIY weatherization tasks, (3) inside lighting retrofit for both buildings, (4) parking lot lighting retrofit, (5) day lighting tubes at the Bridge House, (6) energy efficient air conditioning system for the Whole Village Center and (7) a 38kW roof mounted solar PV array for Whole Village to be installed in October/November, 2017.

PAREI GROWS

As an exemplar of what a non-profit energy initiative can do, PAREI has inspired spin-offs in other areas of the Granite State including the Seacoast Area Energy Initiative (SEAREI) and the Hillsborough Area Energy Initiative (HAREI). Scott Lawrence leads the Hillsborough (NH) Area Energy Initiative (HAREI) as the president of this initiative reaching southwestern New Hampshire. HAREI currently has 11 residential solar power projects in the pipeline now, ranging from 10 to 60 panels.

As Lawrence explains, “What we do is help people understand the process of designing and installing solar power so that they can make good decisions about what to do. In some cases, that just means understanding it well enough to be an informed consumer when working with a commercial installer, but most of our focus is on helping those able and inclined to design and install for themselves.”

Lawrence credits the strong community of volunteers for the initiatives success in enabling new members to learn and eventually produce the installation nicknamed “Solar Raisers,” which echoes the tradition of a barn raising. He adds, “This process not only saves everyone money, it allows each member to learn each step in the process while helping others.”

Lawrence, who has been with HAREI since 2015, acknowledges the work of the group’s most active founding members as integral to their success. Paul Button of Energy Audits Unlimited, who was President until last year, and Andrew Gillis, current HAREI Vice President both “pioneered our Solar Raiser model, and really organized our process and much of our technical information resources,” said Lawrence.

“One of the best predictors of whether or not a home will add solar is whether or not they have a neighbor who’s done so,” Lawrence adds. “What we’re doing is a great example of ‘acting locally’ and being good neighbors. It’s an easy model to copy, and we’re more than happy to help any other groups that want to learn how we make it work so they can adapt it to their own area.”

In the southeastern part of the state, the Seacoast (NH and Maine) Area Energy Initiative (SEAREI) is serving up innovative and engaging events. SEAREI was formed in 2009 by members of the Piscataqua Sustainability Initiative (PSI) in partnership with Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative. SEAREI held a hot-air-panel installation in early 2017 at the downtown Portsmouth Port City Makerspace. The solar hot air panels were gleaned from a large decommissioned solar heating system in Colorado. The 95 refurbished panels led the group to produce a “how-to” installation manual that includes step by step instructions, photos, and cost estimates for this DIY project. SEAREI plans to provide the manual and more discussion about how they can be adapted to your residential heating needs at future events.

SEAREI also kicked off the spring with an ambitious Energize 360 Campaign with various outreach events throughout the seacoast including Dover, NH, which will expand solar to residential customers. The Energize 360 event for SEAREI was featured in the April 2017 issue of Green Energy Times (page 11).

As New Hampshire builds its energy independence, these three local area energy initiatives will continue to contribute substantially to the statewide success at the grassroots and consumer level.

Hope O’Shaughnessy is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who has written for the Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) and The Republican (Springfield, MA).

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