Eleven families in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E) are installing solar systems on their homes this summer, in a community purchase initiative. The ultra-energy efficient homes at BC&E were designed for solar systems, thus most homes have enough space for panels to produce all or a majority of the household’s total energy use.

BC&E is a 36-unit multigenerational community on 42-shared acres in Midcoast Maine, with a 4,900 square foot common house. The construction phase of the project is nearly complete, and only two homes are unsold.

ReVision Energy, a New England solar installer, previously installed 11 solar systems on homes over the last two years. By the end of the summer, BC&E will have at least 22 solar homes total.

For the current solar installation, BC&E members were able to keep costs down through the collective purchase of the panels and other components. In addition, families will qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, which is a dollar-for-dollar reduction on taxes owed. The systems range from 1.5 kW to 5.0 kW systems, all mounted on standing seam metal roofs. The first solar of the 11 solar systems was installed and operational on July 4, in celebration of independence day.

Kiril Lozanov, a member of BC&E and solar installer with Capital City Renewables is leading the solar installation crew for the 11 solar systems and Sundog Solar provided valuable local information. Several BC&E community members are also assisting with the installation.

The savings on electric bills are significant and will last decades through the net metering program by Central Maine Power (CMP). During summer, the solar systems produce more energy than the homes consume, thus the kilowatt hours of electricity are banked with the power company. During the winter, the solar system generates less power and the homes consume more energy for heating, thus the homeowners can use the banked credits with CMP from the summer. Because CMP charges a monthly delivery fee, the lowest electric bills are $9.74.

If a home is net zero, it produces as much power over the course of the year as it consumes. Several BC&E homes were net zero this year, thus the homeowners only paid the delivery fee to CMP. The remainder of the solar homes were near net zero, producing a majority of the power consumed.

Unlike most Maine homes that heat with wood or heating oil, BC&E home use electric baseboard heat. This would be very expensive in less energy efficient homes, but with triple pane windows and doors, generous insulation, and a solar orientation, electric heat is cost effective.

“We didn’t want to truck in deliveries of fossil fuels, so [heating] oil and propane were out,” says Alan Gibson, a BC&E co-founder and a principal for GO Logic, a design build company based in Belfast, Maine. “The theory is that if you can afford solar panels relatively easily, [electric heat in a super-efficient house] is a greener alternative.”

BC&E members are excited about the growing use of solar energy in the community and Kiril Lozanov is excited to participate in the project. “I’m passionate about solar energy and neighbors generating their own electricity because it is a step towards energy independence, with environmentally-friendly energy.”