Maine’s net-metering program allows customers to bank credit for surplus solar electricity for up to one year. Ecovillage homes have no air-conditioning and, in general, low electrical loads—so they usually earn credit from April to October. Once heating season rolls around, they can draw on the credit, as heating with electric baseboards drives up the electricity usage. Residents still pay a monthly fee to the utility for distribution; thus, the lowest electric bills are about $9.74. The energy credit appears on the electricity bill, further motivating homeowners to conserve energy to reach net-zero goals. All of the PV systems include access to MyEnlighten, an online monitor which includes historical and real-time energy production.
BC&E homeowner Penny West has numerous ways that she reduces her energy use to achieve her net-zero goal with her 4.3 kW PV system, such as using only a 6-cubic-foot refrigerator with no freezer. “I also take advantage of the fact that the breaker panel is in the entryway. I turn on the water heater in the morning before I take a shower and turn it off when I’m done.”
One ecovillage member placed a bulk order for 400 LED lights, reselling the discounted 3.5 W bulbs to residents who were interested in replacing the 50 W halogen bulbs that came with the original track lighting systems. Some members installed low-flow showerheads that use 1.25 gallons per minute (reducing water use and water-heating loads), forgo a clothes dryer, or put timers on their water heaters to reduce standby loss. When the common house is complete, shared group dinners will reduce individual cooking energy consumption.
Although nobody has moved forward yet, there is interest in installing PV systems on the garage roofs to offset electric-vehicle charging. The garages have moderate solar potential, with orientation up to 30° off of south and some shading from houses. With downtown Belfast just 2.5 miles away, electric vehicles are a viable transportation option for ecovillagers.