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Solar Story: Going Solar in Rural New Hampshire

Bryant and Karen Winterholer love their home solar system in rural New Hampshire

Bryant and Karen Winterholer of Goshen, New Hampshire. Photo credit: Beth Rexford

In short: We’re excited to share with you the first installment of SPR’s Solar Stories. It’s a space dedicated to the people behind solar energy’s massive growth in the US, and a break from the policy-oriented work we normally write about. Solar Stories are in Q&A format, with some background information to begin.

A few weeks ago, Bryant Winterholer of Goshen, New Hampshire sent us an email to tell us how much he and his wife Karen were loving their solar panels, three years after first getting quotes for solar from us. We were so excited to hear this that we jumped on the phone with Bryant to get the whole story.

If Bryant’s story inspires you and answers questions you may have about home solar, we’re here to help you move forward with your own solar story.

Let’s get going!

About Bryant Winterholer

Bryant is a fascinating juxtaposition: a personal life teeming with small-town, off-the-gridish self reliance along with his wife Karen; a professional life situated as a manager of sustainability for Henkel Corporation, a massive company from Dusseldorf, Germany that makes industrial-scale adhesives, beauty care products, and laundry care products.

His work at Henkel focuses on reducing waste, water usage, and energy consumption for that company’s entire US operation. He was also tasked with assisting Henkel develop utility-scale solar projects (through PPA programs) at over 40 facilities.

With a job requiring lots of travel, nine grandchildren, and a decade’s worth of home projects designed to make his home as efficient as possible behind him, Bryant is excited to retire in early 2020.

When we combined Bryant’s passion for home solar and efficiency projects with his professional solar work on an industrial scale, we were so excited, and fortunate, to jump on the phone with him from across the country in Portland, Oregon to learn more about his solar story.

The Setting

Settled in the late 1700s, Goshen is a small, picturesque New England town of around 800 people located slightly northwest of Concord. The town is nestled near Lake Sunapee, an incredibly gorgeous lake — its serene solitude balanced by its water recreation and adjacent ski resort.

Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire

Sunset at Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. Photo credit: Derek Thompson

Will you share us the moment you decided to go solar? What inspired you?

In my work I keep seeing very real issues with carbon footprints, and our reliance on coal and gas is bigger than you think. I want my grandchildren to have a better world, and a model to build from. Go back to 2009, and my wife Karen and I decided to do something about in whatever small-scale way we could. We began by building a new house with energy-efficient insulation, which lowered our heating and cooling bill and usage. Solar was the natural next step.

We were always interested in going solar, but prices back in 2009 were too expensive for us. But in 2015 we had our moment – prices had decreased dramatically and we could afford it. We took a year to decide on details. How big of a system do we need? Where will the panels be located? Things like that.

We committed [to home solar] in 2016, invested in a 7.1 kilowatt (kW) system for our 2,700 square-foot home, and are now entering our third year. We won’t look back.

What was the process like?

New Hampshire has what I’d call “reasonable” net metering and storage policies (we gave NH an ‘A’ rating for net metering), so we had a good start there.

Our electric company is Eversource, and we’re happy that they don’t charge off unused kilowatt-hours of energy (kWh). We’re connected to their grid for when we need it.

ReVision Energy designed and installed our system, and we loved them! We sourced our panels, components, and inverter from SolarEdge, a global company.

All in all, our system was $21,000, but we really paid $13,000 after tax credits and rebates. New Hampshire has a great rebate program, so we saved a lot of money with that and the federal tax credit.

Has going solar saved you money?

We have yet to have an electric bill aside from the $12 monthly maintenance fee. That’s a pride point for me.

Can you tell us more about your experience with Eversource, your region’s primary electricity provider?

We’ve had no problems with them, and they’ve been helpful with the process. There was a push to get rid of net metering here, but it stalled and we still have it. Every now and then our system will automatically shut off if there’s a large-scale power outage, but that’s to protect Eversource’s workers.

Eversource has been easy to work with in terms of surplus energy being fed back to us in the winter.

What do your neighbors think?

Ha! We don’t really have many neighbors…

Overall, people in our area are supportive of renewable energy. The town next to us, Lempster, has a pretty big wind farm.

New Hampshire, by law, allows its cities and towns to set their own solar ordinances, and Goshen will not increase the assessment of your home for having solar. To me, this helps encourage home solar installations.

Solar panels installed on top of Bryant's home in New Hampshire

Bryant’s solar panels in all their glory. That snow melted right off without any cleaning.

How do the distinct seasons in NH affect your solar power generation? What about all that snow in the winter?

Anyone who’s been to New England knows how hot and humid our summers get, which is great for solar generation. I’d say we generate about 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) per month during the summer. Our record is 1.1 MWh in July 2018. We rarely use that much energy so we haven’t had an electric bill, and we’re able to feed excess energy back into the grid to use in winter.

I’m thankful we have grid storage in the winter because we don’t generate nearly as much solar energy then. In the middle of winter, January and February, we’ll generate around .2 MWh per month. Our record low is .1 MWh in December 2017.

We see that you live in rural New Hampshire. Did you have to clear trees? Where is your system mounted?

Our 7.1 kW system is roof-mounted and facing south. I’d say we have around 70 percent access to the sun. We had to cut down a few trees, mostly pines and oaks, but left the tamaracks. They’re tall, but shed in the winter so they don’t block the sun from our system.

Overall, are you happy you went solar?

Absolutely. I wanted to get rid of that damn electric bill and I did. We are always looking at ways to help our environment, even if it’s small. At the end of last year we installed a hybrid heating system for our home’s water, which saves 50 kW a year.

We typically only buy used cars. We might get an electric car one day, but in my opinion they’re not as efficient as we need them to be. In order to get a kW of energy in an electric car, you need to invest 2 kW into it when you consider the source of the energy (probably coal), and transmission distances and losses.

So yes, we are so excited to enter our third year with a home solar system.

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Last modified: June 13, 2019

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Michael Doherty
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Hot summer days are not good for solar. Cool sunny days are good. Heat is the enemy of solar generation efficiency. As far as the tree cover is concerned, if these folks are seeing 30% tree shading they are experiencing SERIOUS losses in generation. Get thinning and pruning until you are as near 100% shade free as possible! I see some basic misunderstanding about solar in general and shading in particular in this article. That concerns me as the truth must be told to consumers from every source out there. We do agree about the electric cars. They are far… Read more »

Mary Ann Russell
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Mary Ann Russell

Hi Bryant & Karen, what a great article about your solar installation. Good for you both to look into this. I remember back when Kevin and I talked with a rep from alternative power in Vermont, me about water and Kevin about wind, which he is really profiting from these days. How I miss Goshen!

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