By David Van Houten
This is a story of community action and the changes that are happening to our energy economy. We have learned in recent years that many of the ways we make and use energy are expensive, harmful to our environment, and wasteful. North Country folks have generally been inclined to independence and self-reliance, so it is no surprise that we are taking steps in a new direction.
One example of this in our region is the formation of SUNREI (Solar Up North Renewable Energy Initiative), a grassroots group started in Bethlehem, NH in 2011. David Van Houten, Melissa Elander, Ken Begg, and Aaron Cockrell had been working together on Bethlehem Energy Committee activities, and were intrigued by the amazing success of PAREI (Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative). PAREI pioneered the energy raiser, which handles renewable energy installations with the barn-raising approach. The homeowner buys the materials, and one day a group of volunteers comes to help them get their system up and running. In return, the homeowner agrees to participate in 4 more raisers to pay the favor forward. The end result of this is that people learn how the systems work and how to put them together. So we came up with a name, identified a few guinea pigs, and gave it a whirl.
SUNREI decided to start with solar hot water systems for domestic use for several reasons:
- solar hot water systems are inexpensive to install
- once the system is in place, energy to run it is FREE
- solar energy has virtually no adverse environmental impacts
- this type of system matched the abilities of the core group
We set out to accomplish 3 or 4 successful raisers in 2011, and ended up doing 7, while also assisting on 4 systems installed by the homeowners themselves. The response has been very encouraging, and indicates that people are ready for a change. The economics of solar hot water are attractive because it is a mature technology, and because the conventional alternatives rely on fuels which are now priced out of sight. We figured that the primary motivator for people to get involved would be to save money. In fact, there have been many other additional reasons including a chance to act on your belief that more renewable energy installations will lead to broader public acceptance and concern about a cleaner environment both locally and globally.
One of the benefits of this activity is the growth of a community of people who are familiar with solar energy and how we can use it. They are having discussions on a broad range of energy issues, gaining personal satisfaction from helping others, and making new friends and connections. If we are going to free ourselves from expensive energy supplies that come from faraway places, we will need to work together in local and regional communities to explore and experiment with new energy strategies.
We started down this path because each of us has a personal commitment to building a reasonable energy future for ourselves and our communities. We can’t really afford to do otherwise. Luckily, there are several good choices out there; energy efficiency and conservation, solar, wood, small hydro and wind. We hope you will explore some of these opportunities and breathe a little easier.
David Van Houten is the Outreach Coordinator for SUNREI (Solar Up North Renewable Energy Initiative) in Easton, NH. SUNREI’s mission is to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, and the development of small-scale renewable energy at the local level in the North Country of NH. You can reach him at: 603.444.1222 firstname.lastname@example.org