Belfast Ecovillage: Largest Community-Initiated Solar Installation in Maine

Back in 2008, a dedicated group of people were creating a vision for a multigenerational community that would be an innovative housing option for rural Midcoast Maine. The result was Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage, a 36-unit community with clustered homes on 42-acres, that use 90 percent less energy for space heating. Individual homes are smaller because an approximately 4,900 square foot common house with a kitchen, living room, dining room, guest room, and children’s playroom are available for use. Members operate an on-site worker-share farm to grows veggies, young children can safely explore with limited supervision (because automobile access is limited), and 22 homes are now near net zero.

When the homes were constructed by G•O Logic, home buyers had the opportunity to have a solar system installed. Revision Energy installed 12 solar systems (11 photovoltaic and 1 solar thermal system) during the construction phase of the project. Some of the homes were net zero over that period, generating as much electricity for heat, hot water, cooking, and plug loads as the home consumed over the course of the year.

Recently, 11 more photovoltaic systems were installed through a collective purchase and installation project through Capital City Renewables. Despite ranging in size from 2 to 5 kW, all of the systems use Axitec 250-watt PV modules with Enphase microinverters, so members could receive wholesale rates on the purchase of the panels and components.Two ecovillagers were trained by the Capital City Renewables crew and helped install the systems.

 

Belfast Ecovillage is a solar enthusiast’s dream come true. All homes are solar-ready, with a solar orientation, a junction box on the metal roof, conduit from the roof to the electric service panel, and dedicated circuit breakers in every unit.

Installation costs were low due to the community layout. All the homes are ideal for solar, so no pre-installation surveys were needed to determine viability. Because the homes are clustered on 6-acres, the panels and components were drop-shipped to the site. When needed, machinery already on-site for constructing the common house helped transport the panels to homes.

«I think a community solar purchase was a great idea,» says Hans Hellstrom, a member of Belfast Ecovillage and a participant in the recent solar project. «Not only is it good for keeping the cost down, but there was also a feeling of comradery. It also really supports [the Belfast Ecovillage] mission, working towards sustainability.»

Built to the Passive House standard (but not certified), the homes are heated largely through solar gains, and heat from occupants and appliances. Generous amounts of insulation, near airtight construction, triple-pane windows and doors, and a high-efficiency Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system make these some of the most efficient homes in the state. Electric baseboard heaters receive minimal use.

«Because the homes are highly energy efficient and are all electric, the community has the opportunity to generate all their own power and be truly net zero,» explains Kiril Lozanov, the Belfast Ecovillage member who organized the community solar purchase and vice president of Capital City Renewables. «One big advantage to electricity over other sources of energy is the ability to control its source.»

Despite using electricity for heat, hot water, and cooking, the 1,500 square foot Grace/Mabee residence is net zero with a 4.5-kW solar system. The 900 square foot McBride residence generates 95 percent of its own power with a 2.7-kW solar system.

“We didn’t want to truck in deliveries of fossil fuels, so [heating] oil and propane were out,” says Alan Gibson, a Belfast Ecovillage co-founder and a principal for G•O Logic, a design build company based in Belfast, Maine. “The theory is that if you can afford solar panels relatively easily, [electric heat in a super-efficient house] is a greener alternative.”?

Residents of Belfast Ecovillage informally share and barter many things, such as child care, use of pickup trucks, tools, and even flocks of chickens. With solar ready homes and a passion for sustainability, a community solar purchase was a natural fit, as Belfast Ecovillage members often use community-minded thinking to save money, make life easier, or lessen their environmental impact.

 Image Credit: Revision Energy and Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage

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