By George Harvey
The Solar Store of Greenfield is definitely worth a visit. They have a range of merchandise from books to composting toilets. Most of their work is installing solar systems in Franklin, Hampshire, and Worcester Counties of Massachusetts. But talking with owners Claire Chang and John Ward, we get the impression that while they install locally, they really do think globally. They do their work because they take the idea of making the world a better place very seriously.
The business opened in 2005, and was the second of the independently owned stores in Dave Bonta’s USA Solar Store network. The original owner, Mark Skinder, intended to provide an educational resource about solar thermal and photovoltaic power. He also wanted to help grow solar installers in the area of Massachusetts’ Connecticut River Valley.
Claire Chang and John Ward joined the store in 2008, and bought it in 2011. While visitors had always found it easy to become more energy-aware, Chang and Ward wanted to make it even easier for them to move to a more sustainable and resilient lifestyle.
Chang told us, “We want to help people figure out how to move from where they are to a smaller carbon footprint with home heating, energy use, making the right decisions both financially and in terms of energy. Every house and every business is unique, so a lot of what we do is educating customers. We want everyone to have the opportunity to figure out how to reduce their own carbon footprints and move away from fossil fuels.”
Much of the problem facing people everywhere is keeping up with changing government regulations and incentives. Chang and Ward spend a lot of time on this as a service to potential customers. But they also try to move governments, both in Massachusetts and in Washington, to be certain the needs of the environment and generations of people yet unborn are represented as well as those who currently support candidates for government office.
Massachusetts has the good fortune to have a forward-looking piece of legislation, the Green Communities Act, passed in 2008. Since then it has been updated as the goals within it have been reached. A current goal is to have 1600 megawatts of solar PV capacity installed. Chang says that will be achieved by the end of 2017, if the state stays on its current trajectory.
The Solar Store of Greenfield is currently putting a lot of effort into making sure solar power is available to everyone. About 80% of people do not have access to a good site for solar power systems. There is virtual net metering, but some utilities are pushing to have the government do away with it. Continued action is needed to make sure people can have access to the systems they want. Chang says, “The point is not just energy independence. It is really about trying to build a community solution.”
She also explains the relationship she sees between private solar system owners and utilities, “We are not in the business of putting the utilities out of business. We need them to do transmission and reliability. In Massachusetts, generation utilities are separate from the distribution utilities. We need new energy storage infrastructure projects. Currently, natural gas makes up 50% of the New England electricity profile. We need to increase renewable energy generation to replace coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas power plants.” The addition of solar power to the grid means that need for both imported power and central power plants is reduced.
This year has seen customers coming in much faster. With more solar PV systems visible, people are seeing the viability and financial benefits. They understand the urgency of climate change. With banks more aware about solar financing and payback periods sometimes as short as five years, people see themselves within reach of much lower electricity costs. Even though the incentives are complicated, people feel more comfortable with the idea of PV on their roof. Chang says, “We can all be part of the energy revolution for democratic and equitable access to renewable energy.”
The Solar Store of Greenfield can be contacted at 413-772-3122. The store is at 2 Fiske Ave, Greenfield, MA, and is open T-F 10-5pm and Sat 10-2pm. The website is solarstoreofgreenfield.com.