Go solar, and soon


To the Editor:

I’ve just done my Islander’s annual propane pre-buy. This year, I did not have to use my house equity line of credit to do it.

One hundred ninety-four gallons of propane from August 31, 2011 to August 15, 2012. Hot water, stove, dryer and furnace back-up to woodstove.

Propane under $3 a gallon helped too. But the bulk of the savings was from installing a solar, thermal water system.

Janet Hefler’s excellent article [Martha’s Vineyard shines in state rankings for solar energy use, August 29] shows how solar power is contributing to our power needs. But electricity is not the most efficient use of solar power, and the state and utilities probably cannot track the number of houses using solar thermal. I know of at least 17 systems here. In New England, two-thirds of our home energy requirements are for heat and hot water. You can knock a big chunk off your energy requirements by getting them directly from the sun.

My propane use has dropped from about 650 gallons a year to about 200. That’s 450 gallons a year less to buy and burn.

Since I installed my system in October 2008, that’s a lot of bucks. And I don’t freak out when summer visitors take those 20 minute showers. (I still grit my teeth). Between federal tax credit, Mass tax credit of $1,000, the interest on my home equity loan and propane savings, I consider my $20,000 system paid off. My house is cooler, too, in the summer, as the sun is not beating down on my roof, but rather the collectors, and that heat is going into my hot water tank. Any extra heat can go into the basement, and the dehumidifier runs less often. Ceiling fans in the bedrooms eliminate the need for air conditioning. My electric bill is still under $80 with two refrigerators, a freezer, and the heater for the hot-tub off.

Today, the incentives are better with grants still available from MassCEC up to $3,500. and interest free loans from MassSave, that anyone can qualify for, as well as the 30 percent federal and the $1,000 state credit. I know of seven Island families that have taken advantage of the grants and/or loan since last year. There is still some money available.

If you have been considering alternative energy options, my advice to you is, stop procrastinating. No matter which way the elections turn out in November, the generous incentives will be disappearing as funding is depleted. SRECS have already dropped from 50 cents per hour to 28 cents. If you are thinking of going solar, do it soon.

Diane Hartmann

West Tisbury