Solar Installations Soar in First Two Years of Connecticut's Unique Financing Program
Connecticut hasn't been included in various state rankings of solar energy, but its efforts in financing projects and increasing accessibility could change that.
In less than two years, 2,160 residential solar system contracts have been approved in Connecticut, according to The Associated Press. While Connecticut was not listed among Environment America's top 12 states leading the country in solar energy, the state has a strong finance mechanism and campaign in place to boost panel installations. Solarize Connecticut, the campaign backed by a $27 million fund supplied by utility ratepayers, tries to marry homeowners with low-cost installers with the help of the state's Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA). The organization calls itself the nation’s "first full-scale clean energy finance authority."
The CEFIA was established by Connecticut’s General Assembly in July 2011, giving way to Solarize Connecticut, Energize Connecticut and the GoSolarCT.com web portal to aid residents in finding financing.
“We are confident that the GoSolarCT initiative will enable ‘solar-curious’ residents across the state to learn how to access cleaner and cheaper solar energy with a variety of affordable financing options,” said Kerry O’Neill, director of residential programs for CEFIA. “Our research has shown that homeowners are interested in learning how to go solar and trust their neighbors who are leading the charge.
Solarize Connecticut annually earmarks $9 million of the available funding to finance residential installations by solar panel firms that were competitively picked by the organization. The group wants to boost clean energy while decreasing the demand on the electric grid relied upon by utilities.
Bob Wall, director of marketing and outreach at CEFIA, said the agency is running solar panel installation campaigns in 22 of Connecticut's 169 towns and cities. So far, nine solar energy installation campaigns have been completed.
When Westport, CT was selected as one of the four pilot programs for Solarize Connecticut, David Mann, a chairman of the town's green task force, estimated that the expense of solar energy systems through the program could cost up to 50 percent less than market rates.
"It's a proven, long-term technology," Mann told the Connecticut Post.
The average system in Connecticut costs about $24,000, Glenn Cucinell, solar division manager at Encon Solar Energy Division, said. However, state and federal rebates and incentives can drive that cost down to $8,000, depending on eligibility.
The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates more than 9,400 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the U.S.—enough to power more than 1.5 million American homes—and that number is expected to hit nearly 13,000 MW by the end of this year. Additionally, an NPD Solarbuzz report showed that a robust project pipeline would make the U.S. the third largest solar market in the world next year, behind China and Japan.
Households with middle-class income—$40,000 to $90,000—add solar panels to their homes more than any other segment in the U.S., according to a report from the Center for American Progress. Since 2000, U.S. residents installed more than 1,460 MW of solar energy on their roofs.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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