Cumberland veterinarian plugs into solar power

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CUMBERLAND — Veterinarian Tom Netland hopes that from this spring forward, his power bill will be about zero, along with his business’ impact on the environment.

Netland and his wife, Lauren, recently installed 160 solar panels behind their Cumberland Animal Clinic at 216 Greely Road. The array of 10 ground mounts has been up and running nearly a month, and is expected to produce 66,000-kilowatt hours of energy over the course of a year.

During the three decades they’ve been running the clinic, the Netlands originally operated out of what is now their home, but business grew enough to necessitate construction of a 7,000-square-foot building on the lot in 2014.

The new vet headquarters is well insulated, with six zones of heat pumping through it with energy recovery units. Between the clinic and their home, the Netlands have been paying upwards of $900 a month in for electricity.

“When we designed it, we were looking specifically to be green,” Netland said in an interview Jan. 10. “One of our goals was to be environmentally conscious and try to reduce our carbon footprint.”

To that end, the couple sought to install solar panels on the new building’s roof, but “what happened was, in typical fashion, we ran out of money,” he recalled with a laugh. “It’s pretty expensive to put up a building like this.”

The Netlands consequently chose not to immediately install the panels. Fortunately, the price of solar panels dropped by nearly 50 percent in the next three years, down to about $135,000, Netland said, leading them to revisit the project, albeit in a different form.

They built the new clinic with an eye toward having the structure fit in with the farmland that surrounds it.

“We wanted it to just look like it fits here,” Netland said.

And to that end, the Netlands opted to have ReVision Energy install the solar array far off Greely Road, down a hill behind their new building.

“From a purely cosmetic standpoint I was concerned about a big giant solar (array) in the front yard, or even on the roof,” Netland said, noting his goal was “to try to keep them as unobtrusive as possible.”

He also plans to plant some buffering along Greely Road to further mask the system. Meanwhile, the clinic should start reaping the array’s benefits in the coming months.

“The production of this system was designed specifically to produce everything that we use in this building and everything we use in our residence,” offsetting the entire electric bill, Netland said. “… The economics of it clearly made sense.”

Although during these first winter months the system will underproduce the power the clinic needs to have a flat bill, production should exceed what the Netlands use during the summer. That extra power feeds into the grid and will supplement next winter’s production, keeping the electricity bill at zero.

“A meter … counts all of that, so whatever we produce in excess of what we use gets trapped, and then in the months that we underproduce, we get credit for the overproduction,” Netland said. “That system is on a running one-year total.”

If the clinic produces more than it needs during the course of that year, “we would lose that; we don’t get paid for it, per se,” he added.

Installation took a few weeks, which followed measurement of sun production and site selection by ReVision. The array faces due south.

The buyback time on the Netlands’ investment depends in part on whether they receive a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural energy production grant, which would fund 20 percent of the construction cost. The return on the investment could be three to four years in that case; otherwise it could be about eight years, thanks also to a tax rebate incentive the Netlands receive.

Since the life of the array is supposed to be 30 years, Netland said, “from eight to 30 it’s all gravy.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Tom Netland recently had an array of 160 solar panels installed behind his Cumberland Animal Clinic on Greely Road.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.