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Power to the People of Maryland


Summary:

• Older folks lead green revolution.

• Federal, state and local grants are available for alternative energy.

• Interest is partly fueled by skyrocketing electric bills.



Bill Drenning wasn’t an environmentalist when he was young because back then “people didn’t even think about the environment.” But at age 80, Drenning is at the forefront of a green revolution.

Drenning is among the growing ranks of older people turning to alternative energy sources to lower their electric bills and reduce their environmental footprint for future generations.

Envionmental stewardship

In 2007, Drenning installed two solar panels that provide a third of the electricity for his Woodsboro home. Last year, between the money he saved by generating electricity for his own use and the money earned by selling solar renewable energy credits back to the utility, he was able to more than cover the cost of his electric bills in a state with one of the highest rates in the country.

The cost of installing solar energy or wind sources in a home can be $20,000 and often more, although there are local, state and federal financial incentives to encourage homeowners.

• Maryland provides grants of up to $10,000 based on the size of a solar, geothermal or wind project. More than 700 grants were made last year. The average grant for a home system is about $3,000, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

• There is a 30 percent federal tax credit, though that’s on the net cost of the system (the cost minus the state grant).

• Some Maryland counties also provide property tax credits. Check with your county.

Even with incentives, it takes years to recoup an investment in solar or wind power, so environmental stewardship remains the primary motivation for most. “If you’re investing on payback alone, you may not want to do it,” Drenning, a retired engineer, said. “You have to want to help reduce the carbon footprint.”

Cut utility bills

Rebecca Rush, of Hagerstown, founded Grey Goes Green two years ago to help older people who want to cut utility bills so they can remain in their homes longer. Rush’s group performs energy and safety inspections for fees of $300 to $500. If a client chooses alternative energy systems, Rush’s company acts as a liaison with the contractors and investigates financing options.

Rush, 60, reports a surge of interest in energy audits among older Marylanders. Some were eco-conscious teenagers during the 1970s with memories of “No Gas” signs and of President Jimmy Carter urging them to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. They’ve carried that commitment throughout their lives or recently renewed it.

“We’re the ones who feel a particular responsibility for assets we have, and we want to make sure we leave the world in good shape for our children and grandchildren,” Rush said.

Adds Christina Twomey, spokeswoman for the Maryland Energy Administration: “Certainly there is a component of this environmental movement that lends itself well to seniors.”

Others, particularly those on fixed incomes, are motivated by the soaring cost of electricity since the state deregulated the industry in 1999 and the last caps were lifted in 2007. Some monthly electric bills jumped by 72 percent and now rival mortgage payments in size, said Hank Greenberg, the legislative advocate for AARP Maryland. More than 120,000 people fell behind in their payments, creating an uproar against utilities.

A bill to re-regulate power companies died in the Maryland House, but it roused 10,000 AARP members to phone or e-mail their lawmakers. “Our members and older Marylanders are definitely tuned in,” AARP Maryland spokeswoman Tiffany Lundquist said.

Bob Kemper is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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