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Campaign seeks to expand solar power in New Hampshire's North Country

Solar panels on the Isle of Shoals
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Solar panels on the Isle of Shoals

A group in the North Country is trying to convince more of their neighbors to put solar panels on their homes and businesses.

The solarize campaign is open to anyone north of the notches. The more people who sign up, organizers say, the bigger discount participants get. Tiffany Miller Graziano, one of the organizers, said the goal is to make it easy for people to transition to renewable energy.

“I think that we have busy lives, and we have a lot of competing priorities,” she said. “Having this kind of spotlight on this initiative and seeing it around town and seeing how other people are getting involved, I think that really helps motivate the movement forward.”

Miller Graziano said there’s already been a swell of excitement in the region, and people from at least 17 towns have expressed interest in participating.

The campaign is working with solar installer Mains Electric, based in Alton Bay, which is offering free at-home solar evaluations.

David van Houten, another campaign organizer, said the strength of the campaign relies on people talking to their neighbors and friends. The group is hosting open houses across the North Country, where people can see how solar power systems are working for other people’s homes and businesses.

“Rather than listening to some installer, who you may or may not trust, someone who taught your kids high school – you can pretty much figure out they’re telling you the truth,” Van Houten said.

The campaign is meant to get more renewable energy up and running, Van Houten said, but also to educate people on the benefits of solar. He said he’s working against a perception that solar energy isn’t well suited to the North Country.

Van Houten has a solar system on his house, and though the winter sun doesn’t provide as much power, he said the summer months make up for it.

“During the course of the year, you can easily capture enough energy to run your home or your building,” he said. (That’s done through a program called net metering, where electricity customers can be compensated for excess electricity they send onto the grid from their solar panels on days with a lot of sun.)

Van Houten said he wishes the government offered more incentives for solar owners in New Hampshire.

“If you drive into Maine or Vermont or Massachusetts, you’ll see a lot more solar everywhere, and it’s because their states are more forward-thinking,” he said.

But, he said, it still makes sense to install panels. And for him, the stakes of climate change are a motivation.

“We’re running out of time to respect the other living things on the planet and give them a chance to survive, let alone the human beings. So we’ve got to stop using fossil fuels – or at least we need to reduce it,” he said. “It’s embedded in our lives. But in places where we can move away from it we should.”

The Solarize North Country campaign is hosting events through February, and the campaign ends on March 31.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.