CHRIS MAYS, Brattleboro Reformer

SAXTONS RIVER -- Social electricity is becoming more accessible.

Phase two of the Solar Electric Collective project will begin later this month, when Eric Shenholm invites people to buy space in an additional system on a property where five households are already served.

"I think everyone’s really pleased to be able to do something to be part of the direction we need to go in," said Shenholm. "Not only here in Vermont, but as a humanity in general, we need to start producing our energy and find a better way to do it."

On Oct. 21, the first phase went on line. It is a 28-kilowatt system maintained by the Saxtons River Solar Electric Company, of which Shenholm is a proprietor.

By joining the collective, a person becomes an owner. It is not through a leasing or renting process.

"We have a really great site here for solar," said Shenholm of the property on Pleasant Street. "It’s a big field that runs east to west and has great southern exposure."

Being in the construction industry for 35 years, Shenholm saw an opportunity five years ago when he found the property now being used for the project. He had been a part of several efforts to use more solar electricity in the 1970s.

Shenholm moved to Saxtons River from Martha’s Vineyard and began discussing his idea to implement a solar electricity system on his property. He wanted to see if there was an interest to combine energies and eventually establish the system.

The response was positive. Three or four neighbors were in from the start and remain as co-owners.

"It went through a lot of permutations before we ended up where we are now," said Shenholm.

He describes it as a community project, in which everyone owns their equipment. In most other cases around the state, people lease the equipment with an option to eventually purchase at a reduced rate.

"For this, everyone owns their own system," said Shenholm. "We put in (the money) together. It combines what everyone needed into one system. This way, each individual can take advantage of any tax advantage they are entitled to."

After the installation, Green Mountain Power installed a meter to measure the energy output of the system. The measurement was then divided into percentages according to the owners, whose percentages depend upon the size of their particular system. They are then given credits for their tax bill.

"(The owners) can sell the system with the house or independent of the house," said Shenholm. "If they move, they can just have all the power credited to another meter."

He noted that so far, the system has exceeded people’s expectations as far as power output is concerned.

One of the owners has spoken of possibly donating power to a local non-profit organization because the system is bigger than what was needed. Another person put in a system large enough to run a geothermal heating system so his home could be run oil free.

The second phase will focus on another system that will likely be of the same size. It will be located on the same property. The size will ultimately depend on how many people want in.

"It will be set slightly behind the system that’s there now, with the same basic orientation," said Shenholm. "Just a little further behind it."

On Dec. 7, there will be an informational session for joining the collective. For more information, call Shenholm at 802-869-2588.