My Turn: For homeowners, solar embodies ‘Live Free’ spirit

  • Paul Doscher installing the first solar array in January 2009. Courtesy

  • The original 2009 and 2018 solar arrays. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 12/13/2020 6:40:34 AM

Bravo, David Brooks! David’s recent story (Monitor front page, Dec. 8) wondering why New Hampshire is so far behind our neighboring states in the installation of “behind the meter” solar power is right on target.

Nearly 40 years ago, when I was a college professor, I headed up a study of renewable energy sources in New Hampshire, and back then solar photovoltaics were a promising energy source that appealed to my own independent instincts. At that time, the cost was prohibitive (except for space satellites) but there was optimism that one day the cost would drop dramatically. I waited. And waited.

In the meantime my wife and I built a passive solar heated house with a small “solar greenhouse” knowing that passive solar heating, which is a concept as old as civilization, was entirely feasible and cost effective.

During the ensuing years we raised a family while heating our home without any input of gas or oil, other than that needed to cut a couple cords of firewood for use on cloudy days. We’ve saved thousands of dollars over those years. A perfect example of “Live Free.”

A decade ago, as concern about climate change began to dominate my science reading, it was time to take the plunge and buy the solar panels.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law, an extraordinary electrical engineer, had installed his own off-grid solar system at his family’s farm in northern Vermont, and he was happy to help.

Together, using his equipment, we put up a pole and solar array in the field in front of our house. Again, that determination that “we can do this ourselves” got the job done. That array cut our electric bill in half.

Then a few years ago the gas water heater croaked. Time for a new one, and after seeing a friend’s new installation of a heat pump hot water heater, we opted for that. The electric bill crept upward. We also installed a “mini-split” heat pump to keep the house warm on sunless days while we are away in the winter. The bill crept higher.

So it was time to expand the solar system. Again, my brother-in-law brought his equipment down from Vermont and we installed another array next to the first one.

Now, in the long days of summer, we generate just a bit more power than we use and put it back into the grid. The summer electric bill is nearly zero. (There is still a charge for being connected to the grid.)

So, I’m continually stumped by the resistance of the Republican legislators and our current governor to the encouragement of a lot more solar power. Not just by homeowners like us, but towns, cities, and businesses large and small.

The studies David Brooks cites make it clear that solar is now the cheapest form of new power generation, and that generating one’s own power saves money. When you can make your own, it matters a lot less what the rate per kilowatt hour might be when buying the power from the utility.

Seems to me that in the “Live Free for Die” state we would be leading the nation in making our businesses and homes energy independent. Why ship all those millions of dollars out of state when we could keep them here, and spend them on things that are much more fun, like eating out (post-pandemic) in our local restaurants and buying stuff for enjoying the great outdoors?

It really bugs me that renewable energy has become politicized. I’m hoping that some of my more conservative friends who have seen the benefits of solar power and installed their own systems can enlighten more Republican politicians and get us on track to real energy independence.

(Paul Doscher lives in Weare.)

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