Subtitle: Part 1: Trees lost in ice storm create rooftop solar potential
By Elyce Hues
In the Silverton Ice Storm 2021, we watched three Oregon white oaks fall, right outside our window. Immediately after patching the broken water main from the first one, we had stepped back to breathe a sigh of relief, only to watch the next tree fall. The third tree went down early the next morning and uprooted every service line to the house: gas, electricity, internet, and the water main a second time. The house was unoccupiable for over a month; my two daughters and I felt like veritable climate refugees, living for that time in a single hotel room. Maybe that’s too dramatic, but we felt it. Still, I couldn’t miss the potential silver lining: did this mean I could now get solar PV (photovoltaic) panels on my roof?
I started clicking on ads for solar. I got calls from out-of-town companies who told me I didn’t qualify, based on the pre-storm satellite imagery (“I don’t even see a roof!”). I began searching locally; a Salem company came out and said I could do it, if I removed four more trees. Then I found Silverton-based Pure Energy; their simulation suggested that I could get enough sunlight without taking down any more trees. Pure Energy also taught me about the actual panel options - the different materials and technologies used, as well as differences in durability, performance, and longevity. We even went over end-of-life recycling options for the panels.
I was amped (pun not intended), and ready to sign on the dotted line. Energy prices are expected to rise and inflation is here. Could I stabilize my energy bills, save money in the long term, AND help the planet?? I want my footprint to wander but not plunder. Let thy footprint be light, and quickly grown over. I was ready to transform my home to net zero, but my 60-year old home simultaneously needs other big work: the original galvanized plumbing needs to be replaced, along with the water heater. I discovered I could add the cost of that job to my solar financing contract, which offered a great rate. I began to look at my solar install within the total context of my home.
With a new water heater, I think, maybe I’ll use less electricity and could downsize my PV system. While I’m at it, I think, why not get solatubes to increase the natural light in my home? I’ve always wanted more natural light, and how much energy might that save? As the complexity grew, my head began to spin. Also, the price tag for all this work had started to feel impossible. Lucky for me, right at this time, Megan Benedict announced that Sustainable Silverton would be hosting a solar informational event. I breathed deep, and resolved to put all decisions on hold until after the event.
At the solar event, I met guest speaker Nancy Evenson, a volunteer with Seeds for Sol, a Corvallis-based organization partnering with Sustainable Silverton to help lower-income households get solar energy systems installed and experience financial relief in the way of miniscule electricity bills. Two weeks later, Nancy and I were on a Zoom call for a totally free home energy audit. I’d sent her my completed “homework” before the call, and she came to the meeting with a pressing question: Why was I using so much electricity? The question surprised me; I didn’t know I was using more than expected. My focus has now shifted from “Get Solar!” to “Get Efficient!”
Next up is an in-home visit with Nancy and Seeds for Sol founder, Julie Williams, to help identify any energy guzzlers in my home. I may be able to reduce both my electricity use AND my solar system size!
What will happen next for our PV hopeful??
Will she and her Seeds for Sol team be able to identify the electricity wasting culprits??
Just how much will she be able to downsize her solar system design???
STAY TUNED for the next installment in the live case study in Solarizing in Silverton!