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Retirement Planning

solar energy. Case Study: Retirement Planning

Gary & Lynda of West Brookfield: Solar Hot Water, Solar Electric, and Backup Generator

“We use less than 400 gallons of oil per year now, and I don’t miss seeing the oil truck one bit.”

Solar energy may not be on the traditional retirement planning checklist, but it sure worked out for Gary and Lynda of West Brookfield, MA. A few years before retiring, Gary – whose jobs included U.S. Army captain and police officer, and Lynda – a lab technician, started looking for ways to stabilize expenses in anticipation of living on a fixed income.

Unable to control variables like gasoline and food, they focused on another major expense: their oil-fired hot water. Gary was paying $600-$1,000+ to fill his 275-gallon oil tank which, as any New Englander knows, had to be done numerous times a year.

Since New England Clean Energy installed a 2-collector solar hot water system in 2008, Gary’s oil bills have plummeted. “The last time I filled my oil tank was February 2012, and I still have half a tank at the end of August. We use less than 400 gallons of oil per year now, and I don’t miss seeing the oil truck one bit.”

After retiring in 2009, Gary had New England Clean Energy install a 3,075-watt solar electric system. “We generate around 3,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Our electric bills range from $8 to $70 or maybe $80. This past June, it was $23.”

As for the remaining electric and oil bills that solar doesn’t cover, Gary offsets those by selling his Solar Energy Renewable Certificates (SRECs) two or three times a year, generating tax-free income.

“Our budget is totally energy-neutral, plus we have SREC money left over to spend elsewhere or save.” Is he disappointed that SRECs are fetching less than they used to, as the supply has increased due to more people installing solar? “No, because anything is better than the nothing I’d get if I didn’t have solar. I love that my solar system delivers financial benefit in the dead of winter. In a snowy January, I might not generate much solar power, but I still get an SREC check.”

Gary and Lynda also had New England Clean Energy install a backup generator to provide electricity during power outages. “As we get older, we don’t want to face the challenges of being without power, even for short periods of time,” Gary explains. “During the Halloween 2011 storm, our neighbors were melting snow in barrels or borrowing water from us to wash their hands or flush their toilets. Our only hardship was having the TV satellite service go down, because we didn’t have many movies on DVD to choose from!”

Despite Gary’s love of nature, which prompted him to retire in the country, his attitude toward solar energy is 100% pragmatic: “The decision to invest in solar energy wasn’t driven by my interest in conservation. It was completely a financial decision — a decision that has paid off many times over.”