… By the People – For the People !
By David Van Houten
We are in a fix. The high economic and environmental costs of burning fossil fuels to sustain our current way of life are no longer acceptable. This is no surprise to any of us at this point. The real challenge is what we are to do about it. One response has evolved in recent years in New Hampshire, pioneered by the “renewable energy initiative “(REI) groups. Started in 2004 by a few courageous, innovative thinkers, the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative developed the idea of the energy raiser, modeled after the old fashioned barn-raisings. This has been very successful, and has fostered the development of similar groups around the state, such as SEAREI in the Seacoast region, MERI in the Keene area, and SUNREI in the North Country. These groups have a variety of organizational structures, but have one goal in common: to help the citizens and organizations in our region move toward energy independence and economic and environmental stability.
Community Energy Raisers rooted in the tradition of neighbor helping neighbor. The goals of the eraisers: to bring down the cost of installing renewable energy systems; to educate the homeowners hands-on about how their system works; to develop a support network of knowledgeable families; to provide local tradespeople an opportunity to learn about installing renewable energy systems; to have fun and to build community connections while striving to conserve energy and prepare for life in a lower energy world. raiser have volunteered at previous installations and often pay the favor forward at future raisers.
The most common renewable energy system installed at raisers so far has been solar hot water for domestic use, largely because they are relatively simple and affordable. Prior to raising day, the organizing team conducts a few visits to determine what size and type of system is needed, where components will be located, and how it will tie in with the building’s existing energy and plumbing systems. Some preparation is then required to ensure that the raiser will go smoothly, with a fully functioning system by the end of the day. An essential part of the process is training volunteers to do the work, which gives people familiarity and skills which helps them feel comfortable with the technology. On raising day, volunteers are divided into teams to accomplish specific tasks, and have time to learn about all the components and how the system goes together.
- Lower energy costs
- Energy independence
- Inexpensive solar energy system installation
- Reduced environmental impact
- Development of hands-on skills
- Increased connections with friends and neighbors
- Education about energy issues
- Increase in renewable energy installations
- Economic development
- Social and civic involvement that is fun and rewarding
- Support for Yankee ingenuity and self-reliance
It is clearly time for a dramatic shift in energy policy. Our government is presently spending tens of billions of dollars on incentives to the energy industry. The lion’s share of that is going to fossil fuel and nuclear power companies, and it is time to shift the balance toward energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable sources. It will help if we all let our elected officials.
know that we expect them to take action on this. While we’re waiting , we do have the power to do something in our own communities, and I encourage you to join or start an REI of your own.
David Van Houten is the Outreach Coordinator for SUNREI (Solar Up North Renewable Energy Initiative) from 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 New Hampshire.