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Rindge couple goes solar, starts countdown to 'free electricity'

Special to the Sunday News

May 09. 2015 7:53PM
Dwight Schenk of Rindge says a solar installation on his barn roof has cut electricity costs dramatically for him and his wife. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)

RINDGE - For green-minded Mountain Road couple Dwight Schenk and Julie Flood Page, living by their beliefs has its benefits.

"We try to live lightly on the earth," Flood Page says.

Over the years the couple has worked to conserve energy in several ways.

"The lights in the house are LED," Flood Page said. "And we don't run our dryer. We hang clothes on the rack."

"Especially during the winter because it helps humidify the house," Schenk adds.

They have also worked to make their home more energy efficient, removing an old oil furnace and replacing it with a ground-source heat pump. They also use a wood stove to supplement the heat pump, usually spending around $500 a year on fire wood.

The heat pump increased their reliance on electricity, so two years ago the couple added a 5 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of their barn to reduce electricity costs.

The $20,000 cost of the project was reduced to $12,000 through a combination of factors, including a regional group buying effort at the time.

They also took advantage of a federal energy renewal tax credit that is set to end in 2016. If it had not been for the federal tax credit, they wouldn't have undertaken the project.

"For us, that was the first time the economics made sense," Schenk said. "Otherwise, we would have been looking at a 16-year payback on a 20-year system."

Then there is the state rebate for renewable energy projects through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, he said.

"That clearly was one of the factors that was encouraging," Schenk said. "It was not a major portion of that total outlay, but it was significant and it was enough to tip the scales certainly. And we've talked to other folks, homeowners about installing, it's clearly part of the equation."

Also in their favor was the couple was able to pay for the solar project upfront.

"If you can't come up with that upfront money and wait for the tax returns to come and so forth, then it can be a pretty big barrier," Schenk said.

"In New Hampshire it's pretty hard to find somebody else who will front the money. You can do house loans and apply them to that kind of installation. But banks are reluctant to loan based on those systems alone. They don't have that much experience."

Schenk estimates they would have spent $12,000 for electricity over 8 1/2 years, so now, two years in, they are 6 1/2 years away from breaking even on their solar installation. "From then on we will be getting free electricity," he said.

Summer, when the days are longer and the sun is closer to the earth, is when they get the majority of their solar energy. What they can't use goes back into the grid.

The electricity company gives them credit for the electricity they can't use during the warmer months, which covers their electricity demands during the winter when their solar panels are blanketed with snow or otherwise not capturing as much sunlight.

Last winter the couple's credit ran out in March, and they had to pay a $10 for electricity. They are charged a small monthly connection fee all electricity users are charged.

"We are pretty ecologically minded. We believe that global warming is really happening, believe the scientists, and think that we ought to be doing our part as much as we can. It's a happy coincidence that by doing that we are also savings a good bit of money," Schenk said.

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