Leverett couple goes solar in a big, 12-panel way

  • Phil Crafts, left, and Joan Snowdon, both of Leverett, are shown in front of their newly installed solar panels. Gazette Photo

  • Phil Crafts of Leverett looks toward the angled roof on his house which would not allow for the installation of solar panels. Gazette Photo

For The Recorder
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

LEVERETT — When Joan Snowdon and Phil Crafts look out their window into their backyard, they see a 12-panel solar installation harnessing 4,400 kilowatts of energy from the sun.

While they are quick to count the many benefits of going solar, the couple say their primary motivation was to join forces with other homeowners, government officials and businesses to rely less on fossil fuels and more renewable energy sources.

The decision to go solar

For Snowdon and Crafts, making the decision to install solar panels was a natural progression. Since the house was built in the late 1970s, they have been interested in minimizing their dependence on the use of fossil fuels. The windows face southeast for maximum sun exposure, and the couple has relied on burning wood for winter heat.

In recent years, they had several energy audits through Eversource’s Mass Save program, which pointed out a variety of ways they could further increase their energy-efficiency, such as by insulating the roof and replacing the old single-pane windows with more efficient ones.

“Since we were already in the process of making the house more energy-efficient, it became real clear to me that I wanted us to go solar in terms of producing electricity,” Crafts said.

The couple were inspired by friends who live in nearby Shutesbury, and had installed solar panels and told them about the cost savings and other benefits of renewable energy.

Their friends’ son, Jake Stocker, works for Valley Solar. When he heard they were considering solar energy, he helped make a connection between them and the company’s general manager, Patrick Rondeau.

The installation process

Rondeau met with them and assessed the site to determine if solar panels would work and where they should be sited.

While Snowdon and Crafts had first envisioned a rooftop installation, their roof had too many gables for that option to work. Rondeau suggested a ground mount for the panels.

“I thought it would be so ugly,” Snowdon said, “but being involved in the project and watching it go up, we love it now. It’s like a piece of sculpture behind the house — it has really clean lines. It’s beautiful.”

Crafts said that while there are many steps to going solar, such as financing, installation and inspection, Valley Solar was very helpful in facilitating the process.

“Patrick walked us right through it all. He did a lot of the paperwork, of which there is a whole bunch, set up the inspection service. He couldn’t have been clearer or nicer.”

The couple got a bank loan for the project. They calculate that their monthly energy savings will eventually offset loan payments in roughly eight years.

Once the loan was in place, they said, the installation moved quickly. The first phase was digging four 60-inch-deep holes for the concrete poles to support the mount. Once the posts were installed, the crew could bracket the mount and install the panels. The final stage involved hooking the installation into the house. From start to finish, the project was complete in about two weeks.

Benefits of solar

Snowdon and Crafts have yet to receive their first electrical bill that reflects their use of solar energy but they expect to see some savings right away. In the summer, when the days are longer and their bills are naturally lower, they may even see their electrical meter “run backwards.”

If consumption exceeds their generation of electricity, they will pay for the net amount they have consumed. But if their power generation exceeds consumption, they will receive credit on their bill for the amount they produced but didn’t use.

Crafts explained they will also receive SRECs, or solar renewable energy credits. One SREC is created for every megawatt of solar power produced. These credits are eventually sold to utility companies and paid back to producers.

“My understanding,” he said, “is that small producers like us have been bundled in a local group, so in a small sense, they have put us together like a co-op. We’re going to get some reimbursement and we will, in addition, have a lower electricity bill.”

While Snowdon said she is looking forward to the day their electricity bill has a negative balance, “Our primary reason for doing this wasn’t to limit what we pay from electricity or gain tax credits. The main motivation is climate change.” She said glad to see many of her neighbors are also installing solar panels and that Leverett has an energy committee looking for ways to use less fossil fuels.

“At Town Meeting last year, we voted to get the whole town of Leverett to negotiate with Eversource to only use renewable suppliers,” she said. “It’s time to figure out ways to shrink our carbon footprint, as a town, as individuals, as a state.”

“That’s a huge point,” Crafts said. “It’s clean, it’s renewable and ultimately it’s cheaper, so why isn’t everyone plugging into the sun? It’s a no-brainer — solar, wind, tidal. I mean, why not?”