October 14, 2013
Virgil homes serve as model for self-reliant living
VIRGIL — Last month, Mary and Niels Schulz paid an $18 electric bill, and that’s including tax.
They achieve this monthly miracle with the help of a 100-foot wind turbine, and a 30-panel photovoltaic solar panel array, which have met nearly all their energy needs and then some for the last eight months.
The Schulz family opened up their home and shared some of their secrets on Saturday as part of a sustainable living tour, organized by Sustainable Cortland.
It was the third such tour that Sustainable Cortland has organized. The organization’s president, Beth Klein, said the goal is to open people’s eyes.
“We’re trying to show people that there are those within the county that are doing this,” said Klein. “And that it’s not impossible or as hard as they might think.”
The Schulzes home is designed with its energy needs in mind. Its south-facing windows are larger, allowing more sun to come in and heat the home, while its north-facing windows are smaller, curtailing the amount of heat lost during cold days. Even their landscaping is done with an eye to energy conservation, with no large, leafy plants on the south side of the house to affect incoming sunlight.
“We talked to a lot of different companies before we started,” Mary Schulz said. “It’s a big startup cost, but you begin to see paybacks pretty soon.”
Doug Roser, who works for Pyrus Energy of Weedsport and who installed the turbine and solar panels, said a standard 30-panel array will cost about $29,000.
After federal and state grants and tax breaks, that $29,000 becomes closer to $9,000.
“With the kind of production you get out of that, it takes about six and a half years to get 100 percent payback on the system,” said Roser.
“I just don’t see how you can’t do it,” said Mary-Beth Wright of Virgil, after the tour. “I’ll probably have them (Pyrus Energy) come and look at my place. I just don’t know why more people don’t know about it. You think you’d drive around and see them everywhere.”
The second stop on the two-part tour was the Applegate homestead in Virgil. Its owners, Bob and Chris Applegate, are dedicated to living as self-sustainingly as possible, though, Chris admitted, “self-sufficiency is really a falsehood.”
“Nobody can do everything,” said Chris Applegate. “You really need a community.”
But the Applegates’ property is impressive as well as productive, boasting fruit trees, a large pond, extensive gardens and even a greenhouse. They also raise chickens and pigs.
“When you’re thinking about that word, sustainable, you need to think about resiliency,” Chris Applegate said while talking about their efforts to develop their property.
“It’s great to learn and talk with other people and share our successes and our failures,” Bob Applegate added.
After passing around a bowl of fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, the Applegates took their visitors back to meet their pigs. Bob Applegate hauled a bucket of apples raked from the ground under their many apple trees up to the fence and dumped the whole thing over the side, as the assembled crowd watched the pair of animals make quick work of them. The Applegates are trying to feed them as much as possible before they send them to a butcher come the end of fall.
“I think it’s crazy cool what they’re doing,” said John Zelgon, who lives in Hoxie Gorge and who came on the tour to get ideas for his own home. “It’s all just very interesting. Long term, our goal is to do something like this.”
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