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Tooling with alternatives

Jim and Pat Sanders foster sustainable energy options

By SANDY LONG

HONESDALE, PA — There are an increasing number of tools in the box of alternative energy choices. Jim and Pat Sanders have already put many of them to use at their Honesdale home, and they are eager to share what they’ve learned with others.

When the couple decided to remodel their high-energy-consumption ranch home, they started by replacing the roof, gutting walls and blowing in cellulose fiber insulation, which is more efficient than fiberglass. They also replaced windows with low-e glass.

“The house is almost south-facing, so there’s a lot of solar gain in the winter,” said Pat. Jim added, “The low-e glass has a special coating. If the angle of the sun is high, it reflects the heat away; if the angle is low, it lets the heat pass through.”

Next, the Sanders wanted to install a geothermal heating system. Jim located a dealer willing to train a local professional. “I told my contractor, ‘If you’re willing to be trained and become a dealer, I’ll take responsibility for sizing the system and getting the well drilled.’ He got in the business because of this and has installed at least 18 of these systems since.”

Jim was also thinking long-term; “If we go geothermal, then if eventually we put in solar, I can power it with that and generate my own electricity to create my own heat and I won’t have to worry about heating bills either.”

Last November, the Sanders had 39 panels installed by Martin Young of Gravity Sunpower on the cabin near their home. “They produce 7.4 kilowatts of power and supply 60 to 65 percent of our needs,” he said. “Because I was so happy with it, I decided to become a net zero buyer of electricity.

“The economics are so powerful; this is like a 20 to 30 percent return on investment, primarily because of government incentives. Last month, we put 14 more panels up. We have the capacity on an annual basis to produce all the electricity we use. On a daily or weekly basis, PPL buys some of my electricity; I buy some of theirs. It flows back and forth. At the end of the year, my bill should net out to zero, except for $8.45 a month in taxes.” The couple is also experimenting with a supplemental solar hot water panel.

Planting SEEDS

The Sanders are members of Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support (SEEDS), an organization that targets strategies for developing alternative energy resources. “SEEDS has done an incredible job,” said Jim. “That’s how Martin Young got into this business. He took the renewable energy installation and maintenance courses offered by SEEDS and got his certification. Locally, he’s installing these systems as fast as he can do it.”

Above all, Jim believes the economic benefits will drive continued development of solar energy. “We spent $39,000 on the system. The state was giving an incentive of $2.25 per watt. They sent us a check for $14,000. The Federal government gives a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost. That was $11,000. Now we’re down to $16,000. Another element is the cost of the electricity that you don’t have to pay any more. For us that was a savings of around $800-900.”

The final component involves Renewable Energy Credits, a system that allows companies to purchase credits from people like the Sanders instead of investing in developing their own renewable energy systems to meet certain mandates by 2020 to produce 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

“For every 1,000 kilowatt hours that we produce, I can get a renewable energy certificate to sell on the open market for about $350. That’s about three times the retail price of electricity. (The Sanders sell approximately one per month). “So for a $16,000 investment, we are earning about $3,000 a year in credits. That’s roughly a 20 percent return on investment. It could be even higher. It’s very compelling. The cost of these systems has dropped about 30 percent in the last couple years.”

All of it makes the couple smile, especially seeing the electric meter run backwards. “That means we’re pumping electricity to PPL,” said Jim.

“There’s so much good that we can do. When you think about power companies sending electricity for long distances, the losses are tremendous. They have to produce more than twice as much as the consumer needs, just pushing it to us. Produce it yourself and you eliminate that.

“Looking at systems like this is the right thing to do. It gets us away from reliance on fossil fuels and buying fuels from foreign countries, which ultimately leads to conflict over scarcity. But the capper on the whole thing is the economics. It’s a fantastic investment.” “It’s very satisfying, easy to use and to live with,” Pat added.

For more information visit SEEDSGroup.blogspot.com, email SEEDSGroup@gmail.com or call 570/224-0052.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Jim and Pat Sanders have taken numerous steps to reduce their energy consumption and harvest renewable energy resources utilizing technology like the solar panels on the roof behind them. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
This geodesic dome greenhouse is the most recent addition to the Sanders’s sustainability toolbox. Designed to enable year-round gardening, it features four-layer polycarbonate panels and a 700-gallon water tank that acts as a heat sync and provides habitat for fish and plants. Vents are operated with thermal action. A small solar panel operates a fan that circulates cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter under the planting beds. (Click for larger version)