Going solar in Hawley

PV Squared arrives on the scene in Hawley.
PV Squared arrives on the scene in Hawley.
Emily Vail and Jesse Poutasse of PV Squared install solar panels atop the writer's house in Hawley last fall.
Emily Vail and Jesse Poutasse of PV Squared install solar panels atop the writer's house in Hawley last fall.
Jesse Poutasse and Emily Vail of PV Squared install solar panels atop the writer's house in Hawley last fall.
Jesse Poutasse and Emily Vail of PV Squared install solar panels atop the writer's house in Hawley last fall.
This hilltown house turned out to have plenty of sun for solar panels.
This hilltown house turned out to have plenty of sun for solar panels.
Emily Vail of PV Squared helps install solar panels atop the roof of the writer's house in Hawley last fall.
Emily Vail of PV Squared helps install solar panels atop the roof of the writer's house in Hawley last fall.

For Going Green

My house went solar late last fall. I’m not militantly green, but I do believe in doing what I can to help the planet. I drive an energy-efficient car and try to combine trips in it whenever possible. I tend to don a sweater (or two!) instead of cranking up the heat in my house. I use the clothesline instead of the clothes dryer when the weather is favorable. And I am fierce about turning off any lights and appliances I’m not using.

I have long been fascinated by the idea of solar panels. Still, I never actually thought I would have them on my house … until last year, when I had a financial windfall. My brother and I sold a piece of art we had inherited from our parents.

One might argue that I could have socked the money away for a rainy day. I decided to buy solar panels instead.

First, I reasoned that they were the only thing on which I could spend the money that would pay itself off over time.

Second, knowing that I would have to pay quite a bit in capital-gains taxes on the sale of the art, I was attracted by the financial benefits of going solar. At present, both the United States and Massachusetts governments offer tax credits for this process.

I discovered that the financial pot was also sweetened by a relatively new initiative called the SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) program. This requires the three main Massachusetts utility companies to pay people who opt to go solar a modest monthly fee for 10 years.

To do the work I chose PV Squared, a mostly worker-owned company in Greenfield that was founded in 2002. I wish I could tell you I went through a scientific process to select them. I didn’t. I did talk to neighbors who had solar panels and that’s where you might want to start.

The salesperson assigned to me, Aimee, used a low-key approach, intent on giving me information rather than pressuring me into buying.

She tested my site extensively. I live between two sets of hills and was concerned that I might not have enough exposure to the sun to make the solar venture worthwhile. Aimee confirmed that I had plenty of sunlight.

She understood that this decision was major for me. When I told her that I needed time to consider the project, she waited for me to contact her again. In the meantime, she left me with plenty of good data, including a projection of the time it would take for my system to pay itself off (six years).

Aimee also mentioned financing options I might be able to use if I didn’t want to use up my entire nest egg on solar panels.

It took me several months to make up my mind to go ahead with the project. I’m a slow decider, especially when it comes to big-ticket items. And I suddenly hit a very busy season professionally. I had to work extra hard and had little spare time in which to think.

Eventually, I found a window of time in which to breathe and consider. After deliberation, I called Aimee and said “yes.”

She passed me along to a project manager, Jeannine. She walked me through every step of the project in advance so that I would know what was coming and when. She also gave me great advice about making my home more energy-efficient beyond the solar panels.

Jeannine spotted areas of my house with insufficient insulation, for example, and encouraged me to sign up for a free energy assessment from Mass Save.

The panels and their hardware arrived in October and were fitted onto my roof by cheerful young people who were a pleasure to have around. The process involved a number of stages, but none of them took long.

I had to wait a short period of time after the bases and flashing for the panels were installed, so that electrical and building inspectors could make sure the roof was ready for the panels.

After the panels went up, there was another short wait; county inspectors and the power company had to sign off to confirm that everything was in working order.

On about Nov. 1, we were ready to flip the switches and let the system get to work. I found it entertaining (and also heartening) to watch my electric meter suddenly venture into negative territory; this meant that I was generating electricity rather than just taking it from the utility company.

Starting in November as I did, I have had to pay a small amount of money to the utility company over the past couple of months. Because of my house’s situation, the sun rises very late and sets very early in the winter.

The charges have been minimal, however, and by next year they won’t exist. During the coming sunny summer months, I should store up enough credit at the utility company through the power I generate to offset any winter costs.

At the moment, then, I’m thrilled with my investment. The icing on top of my cake is that the panels on my roof are attractive. I think of them as a hat for my house … and I love a pretty hat.

If you are interested in pursuing solar power for your home, I can recommend a couple of sources of information. The state provides a list of questions to ask potential installers at http://www.masscec.com/ finding-solar-installer.

Other links on this website, which belongs to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, also discuss the incentives provided for solar installation by the state and federal governments, as well as possible financing options.

A list of solar installers that work in Massachusetts may be found at https://www.sebane.org/our-members.

I also strongly suggest that you try my method for choosing a provider: talk to friends and neighbors who have solar power. They can share their experiences with you. Enjoy the sunshine!

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, http://www.TinkyCooks.com.

Author: TINKY WEISBLAT

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