BELFAST — Sundog Solar is hosting a solar tour 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Belfast Cohousing, 25 Village Road. This is an opportunity to view three completely different solar electric systems, speak with Sundog Solar specialists, and view the community. This event is free and open to the public.
Despite having electric heat and frigid temperatures last winter, most households at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage paid around $11 a month for electricity. Of 36 homes in the community, 25 use solar panels to produce electricity. Combined with an energy-efficient design, homeowners are saving big on electric bills while protecting the environment.
Belfast Cohousing is a 36-unit, multigenerational community on 42 shared acres. Beyond energy use, the layout of the community is equally unique. It features a 3-acre community farm, a shared common house with large kitchen and dining room, and walking trails. A pedestrian path, not a road connects the homes and automobile access is limited to the edge of the property.
Sundog Solar recently installed three solar systems at Belfast Cohousing. These systems are sized to produce all the power the homes consumes over the course of a year for heat, hot water, cooking, lights, appliances, and electronics.
Surplus energy is fed to the power grid and the residents receive a credit on their electric bill. When the household needs more power or the sun isn’t shining, the home draws energy from the electric grid. The Wheelock solar system also features a lithium-ion battery for emergency power during grid outages.
“There is a lot of severe weather in this part of the country,” says Jim Wheelock, a member of Belfast Cohousing. “We are faced with the prospect of working remotely from home. Having a reliable power source is job critical.”
Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar estimates that most solar systems (without battery backup) pay for themselves in about 8 years in Maine. Considering the solar systems are designed to last 30 years, this results in a couple decades of free energy.
“Belfast Cohousing has a unique community in rural Maine. The dwellings are clustered to preserve open space for wildlife and food production. The homes are built to the Passive House standard by GOLogic, and use 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home. All of the houses have a solar orientation and little or no shading, making them a great fit for solar energy.”
This layout stands in contrast to most new neighborhoods in the U.S. that are largely automobile-centered, thus significantly reducing contact with neighbors. “We lived in a neighborhood in California for a year before we met our next door neighbor,” says Wheelock. “We were completely disconnected from the people around us. It’s a problem in a lot of communities and across America. You are surrounded by people and yet completely alone.”