WESTMINSTER — An innovative "virtual net metering" solar project to help low-income people with their electric bills was dedicated Thursday in the memory of the man who helped hundreds of Windham County residents weatherize their homes.
The Community Solar for Community Action facility was dedicated to the memory of Harald Schmidtke, who was the weatherization director for Southeastern Vermont Community Action for 25 years, before he died in April of liver cancer.
The 110-kW solar facility will allow SEVCA to give about 40 to 50 low-income residents in Windham and Windsor counties a break on their electric bill, said Steve Geller, SEVCA's executive director.
Geller estimated that the qualified households would receive an annual credit of about $400 a year toward their electric bills, thanks to the electricity being generated by the SEVCA solar installation.
Schmidtke, a Wilder resident, was devoted to SEVCA and his mission was to help people, said his son, Max Schmidtke, who was at the ceremony in his father's honor, along with his two sisters, Carolyn and Nicole.
Schmidtke, who emigrated to the United States as a child, was dedicated to helping people, his son said. And he considered his fellow workers at SEVCA and his weatherization crew, to be his second family.
"Harald built the program up to a fairly sizeable one," Geller told the crowd gathered at SEVCA's main office.
The solar project is the first of its kind in Vermont, and the $293,000 project is being built in partnership with the Minnesota-based Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. The project received a major grant from the Windham Regional Commission. The WRC funding came from the Vermont Clean Energy Fund, which in turn was funded by Entergy Nuclear, the owner of the now-closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
About one-third of the solar project, which is being built by Catamount Solar, is already constructed and is mounted in a small area outside the SEVCA offices. The balance of the project will be installed on SEVCA's roof, Geller said. SEVCA is currently getting a second opinion on whether the roof needs structural reinforcement to hold the solar panels, he said. Geller said permitting for the project required that most of it be installed on SEVCA's roof.
Geller said about 80 percent of the project's 110-kilowatt output will go toward providing credits against people's electric bills, with 20 percent being used to offset SEVCA's own electric bill.
It's not the first time SEVCA has been an energy innovator.
Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, was the SEVCA director in the 1970s and 1980s, and during that time SEVCA produced an innovative woodstove out of recycled propane tanks and well casings so that low-income people could use wood to keep their homes warm.
Deen, who was at the solar dedication ceremony, said the SEVCA stove project also trained people how to be welders. The stove company, which was a spinoff of the SEVCA project, eventually produced more than 1,000 low-cost stoves, some of which are still in use, Deen said.
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