Darien family ties solar energy to local roots
Chris Melvin never predicted he'd be working in the environmental industry, despite his mother Connie's role as chairman of the Darien Environmental Group. He left Darien to study business at Roanoke College in Virginia after graduating high school in 1998.
But Chris Melvin was led to a position at SolarCity, a clean energy service provider headquartered in California, after reading information about environmental sustainability that sparked his interest. When the company opened its Hartford branch in February, he reached out to his Darien roots with an offer: SolarCity will award the Darien Environmental Group $400 each time the group is mentioned by a customer, who will also receive a $500 discount on their solar installation.
"They had a program, which (Chris) found out about from the company, that you could benefit the person who suggested that you could go to SolarCity for your installation," Connie Melvin said. "And he knew the environmental group, which I run as a nonprofit, could always use extra funds."
Connie clarified that she is not benefiting from this offer personally. The funds will go to the group's initiative of educating Darien residents and youth about environmental friendliness. She said the group is run by a six-man board, with about 60 parent volunteers that participate in the school programs. They also hand out reusable grocery bags with informational packets inside.
"We began to hand out bags before it was `in' to hand out bags," she said.
The group is somewhat new the idea of solar energy, she said.
"I was on the Darien energy task force (in 2009) as a representative from the environmental group," she said. "And we were looking into solar panels for the schools. So, obviously these are all the things we promote."
Connie said the group is always looking for ways to increase funding to benefit the town.
Chris added he and his mother have been working on this offer for some time.
"We've made a big turn in our marketing efforts (at SolarCity) where the focus is more on a grass-roots type of campaign because, eventually, you do so much radio or different types of advertising and you kind of tap out your market base," Chris said, noting environmental protection as a primary reason people started investing in solar energy. Cost efficiency became another incentive in time.
"The goal is to reduce your kilowatts per hour," he said.
For example, Chris created a proposal estimate for his parents' house in Darien that shows the difference in cost between solar power and electricity. The proposal shows their current payment for electricity is 32 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas the price per kilowatt-hour under a standard service package, in which they own the solar energy system, is 9.7 cents. Residents can also lease a system for limited or no up-front costs.
His proposal shows residents can save between approximately $24,316 and $36,347 in 20 years' time, depending on the installment plan they choose.
"It's not small change we're talking about," he said. "You know, $20,000 is a good chunk over time."
SolarCity isn't alone in its initiative, however.
"What we've seen lately is, there's been a push in the United States to develop alternative services," Chris said.
Connecticut passed Public Act 11-80, forming the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority in July 2011, to use state resources for promoting clean energy. This organization was preceded by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, created in 2000 with a similar initiative of funding "more than $150 million in renewable energy projects, emerging technology investments and education and awareness programs statewide," according to www.ctcleanenergy.com.
The website lists two incentives offered by the CEFIA for residents who have a solar energy system installed by a contractor. A resident who purchases a system will save $2.275 per kilowatt for up to 5kW used and $1.075 per kilowatt for between five and 10kW used. A resident who leases a system will save 30 cents per kilowatt for up to 10kW used.
SolarCity is among nearly 60 solar energy contractors approved by the CEFIA.
"The more people I can help, the more I feel like we're really starting to make a difference," Chris said, adding that his mother has considered installing a solar energy system to her home for several years.
"It's become cool to be energy conscious, besides in your pocket. It's the right thing to do now," Connie said.
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