Spreading solar: Upper Gwynedd neighborhood looks to sun as 6 homes in small area install solar panels

UPPER GWYNEDD — If you’d like to see what a green future could look like, talk a walk or drive around Park Road in Upper Gwynedd.

Six houses along the street now have solar panels systems set up, and residents Tim and Heidi Lucas hope they’ve set an example others can follow.

“We were the first ones on the street, and then a friend of mine five houses down put in a system last year, and then a couple of others,” said Tim.

“One time, I was outside, and a woman walked past our house and said ‘You know, I’ve been looking at your solar panels…'” Heidi added.

The couple got the idea for installing their own solar setup after hearing headlines about climate change and global efforts to reduce emissions, and as 39-year residents of the township, they were already thinking about the future.

“It’s a very satisfying thing to do. You feel like you’re doing something for your children and grandchildren, for their future,” said Tim. 

When they started researching solar energy in the summer of 2019, prices had fallen “down substantially over the last couple of years,” he said, and he found a research firm that helped vet several solar companies who submitted proposals.

“We waded through them, and figured out which one fit us in terms of what they were offering, the strength of the company, that kind of thing,” he said.

Their research started around June of that year, and it took until November to get their panels delivered, installed, and all of the needed permits and approvals from the township and PECO. Since then, they’ve been essentially off the grid, if not adding to it.

“We do cover more than we use. We pay attention to light bulbs, have a lot of LEDs, and cover more than we use,” he said.

“We also purchased a Tesla, and so we also cover the amount of energy used to fuel up our electric vehicle — even though, given COVID, we don’t drive much now,” Tim said.

Heidi said that first conversation with a neighbor led her and Tim to put together a letter with questions to ask, info about the companies they researched, and tips for anyone else looking to go solar.

“It was just about two weeks ago that we saw she had put on her own panels,” she said of the neighbor.

Their system has 27 panels on their roof, while one neighbor has 16, another has 20, numbers that depend on the size of space available, the angle to the sun, and whether there are any obstructions.

“Because of the orientation of our home, to the south, you can see our panels. But when our friend put his on, he was a little disappointed, because no one can see his from the street, it’s on the back of his house,” Heidi said.

When they started planning, a federal tax credit offset 30 percent of the cost, which has since been reduced to 26 percent, according to Tim. No state credits are currently available, but he’s been in contact with local officials including state Rep. Liz Hanbidge about backing legislation that would allow community solar fields, where a neighborhood or utility would install a field of panels, then use the solar energy while paying down the cost.

“In the last session, (the bill) didn’t get out of committee. One of my goals over the next few weeks is to try to figure out why,” and try to build support, Tim said.

The township’s approvals were much faster and friendlier than PECO’s, Tim added, and anyone interested in contacting him to learn more can do so by emailing timslucas@verizon.net. As of this week, their neighborhood now has six solar panel systems in operation, five on Park and one on adjacent Garfield Avenue.

Heidi said while that’s about ten percent of their neighborhood to go solar in just the past 18 months, she expects the support for solar to continue to spread to at least one other nearby town.  

“We know a young couple who lives in North Wales, and they just recently bought a house, and they are going to put solar on their house using the same company we did,” she said.

Written by Dan Sokil — dsokil@21st-centurymedia.com — @dansokil on Twitter — Feb 9, 2021 — original article here

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