The Devil in the (Solar Credit) Details

Solar DetailI was finally able to take stock of my estimated taxes for next year, and compute how the solar energy credit would work for me. Sad to say, the devil is in the details: while I was hoping to be able to take a tax credit to recoup 30% of the cost of our solar panels, it won’t quite work out that way. For this coming year, I will be able to take less than one third of that.  The rest I will have to carry forward to future years.

I am disappointed about that, and a bit surprised.  But before we installed the panels, I wouldn’t have even known how to ask the questions to discover all this.  In the literature on solar, it was always expressed as “may be able to get 30% of cost as a tax credit, but consult a tax professional.”  I had just assumed that it would work to take the credit this coming year, because I knew my tax bill is generally higher than 30% of the solar cost.  But I think I got caught in the peculiar way that minister’s taxes are computed.

Ministers are counted as “self-employed” for social security, so we pay 15.3% of our total compensation toward social security self-employment taxes.  Most employees have 7.65% withheld and the other 7.65% is paid by the employer. (On the other hand, ministers get a break on our housing allowance, so that tends to even it out.)  What ends up happening for me, though, is that the largest part of my actual tax bill is the social security self-employment tax. And I did not realize that the solar tax credit could not be used against that tax, but only the regular federal taxes.

I share all this because I am guessing that some of my ministry colleagues might have an interest in installing solar panels, since you share the same values I hold about caring for the earth and using renewal energy.  I wanted to warn you that you might not be able to count on getting that money back in the first year. Plus, I can see how this makes it even harder for solar panels to be affordable for lower income folks.  The lower your income, the lower your taxes, and the more years it may take for a rebate to actually come back to you.

Personally, I’ll be okay financially.  And I don’t regret having installed the solar panels, even with this and other political setbacks. But I sure was looking forward to having that rebate for other house projects that are waiting in line. So it goes.

Water for Future Gardens

Garden SpigotToday a plumber installed a new outdoor spigot at our house. The old one was buried behind the steps to the deck, close to the driveway, and not at all handy for future garden watering. This one is on the other side of the deck, close to where we are imaging planting fruit trees and other food crops. It makes me happy to see it there, all ready to use.

Before we installed it the spigot, we had to research what material to use for the piping–copper, PVC or PEX.  We chose copper because the PVC varieties and PEX piping seem more hazardous with leaching that puts chemicals into the water. This article was very helpful.  Since this spigot will be watering our food, we want it to be as non-toxic as possible.

Submeter

Submeter

It is also attached to a submeter we purchased from the Portland Water District. Our sewer bills are computed based on the volume of our water usage, and with a submeter, the water that is going into the ground (rather than the sewer) won’t be used to compute the sewer bill.  So spending the money for the submeter now should eventually save us money in the long run.  Now all we have to do is contact the city for an inspection, and we’ll be good to go.

(Except we won’t be planting gardens until next year.)

River Swim

River SwimI went into the river this morning!  This little access gem is only ten minutes from my house.

When I lived on Cape Cod, I discovered the possibility of taking a quick dip in the water every morning.  Cliff Pond was a ten minute drive from our house, so I’d drive over, jump in, honor the beautiful water, and I created a ritual to let go of all sorts of worries and troubles and joys and gratitude into its refreshing hold. One year I did this starting in April and continuing through the beginning of November. It was a central spiritual practice for me during that time.

When we moved to Maine 11 years ago, that was no longer possible where we lived in North Yarmouth.  The nearest water was a tidal bay about 20 minutes away. We could only swim there 2 hours before and after high tide.  It was great in its own way, and we loved paying attention to the tides.  But I had to find new morning rituals and new spiritual practices. Sitting in the screen tent.  Walking.

Imagine my surprise, after our move to Portland, when our friend recently told us about this access point for river swimming.  Margy and I went there to swim with her a couple days ago.  Thank you! And today, I got up my courage to go on my own.  Courage because, as a woman, I always carry a little fear about going to solitary natural places on my own.  But then I remembered–this is the River!  I need to take that risk and go into the water.

I have been astonished at the blessings that have been unfolding in our new place, unexpected treasures like the creatures passing through, and now the return of old lost rituals. My heart is full of gratitude and wonder this morning.

Magic in the Yard

Today I woke early, it was raining, and I was drawn out to the screen tent in the yard to journal and pray and connect with our land. I was writing about a dream when suddenly I was startled by a loud huffing sound, and looked up to see a deer jumping into the brush and trees at the back of our yard. I didn’t see where she had come from, but wondered if she had ventured into the yard, and then suddenly was startled by noticing me in the screen tent.

I kept peering into the bushes all around the back of our yard looking for her, but all was quiet.  And then I saw her head peering over the bushes at the west corner of our space, perfectly still, almost invisible.  I would never have seen her if I hadn’t been looking so intently.  She was peering back at me. I silently sent her a message–I honor you, I won’t hurt you, I am sorry I scared you. Thank you for being here.  And then she moved away into the little woods of undeveloped land behind the houses on our street.

I sat for quite a while longer, astonished and moved, and pondering how the wild creatures might be passing through at any time, or watching us when we least expect it. Even right here in Portland.  I thought about the future of this space, how this year we are observing everything we can about the land, and also asking the land, what do you want for our partnership? Margy and I had been talking about maybe a little orchard in the sunny space just behind the house, and maybe vegetable beds in the side yard which was also sunny.  Maybe further back a pond for frogs and other creatures to drink from, and maybe a fire circle.

This morning I felt how sacred this space really is, already.  How lucky I feel that we were able to find this place and move here.  And how wonderful to be imagining the ways we can bless this land and be blessed by it.  I had a new thought, too–perhaps we can invite folks into this shady space at the back for learning together about how we journey into earth community.

Then I came into the house, intent to blog about all this.  I was looking on my laptop for possible photos to use with this posting. Suddenly our cat Billie jumped up to the window behind me and was looking into the back yard, and so I looked too.  And there was the deer, standing in plain view at the back of the yard, looking toward the house. I went around to our back door, and even opened the door and looked back at the deer.  She watched for the longest time.  And let me take this photo.

Oh earth, you never cease to amaze me!Deer in our yard

Still Angry

Last week, we got our first electricity bill with a full month of solar energy production on our roof.  I was excitedly looking forward to a bill in which our production exceeded our consumption, and so we had nothing to pay at all.  Zero for electricity!  Well it turns out, that can’t happen in Maine.  Apparently, in the not so distant past they changed the structure of delivery rate payments so that anything less than or up to 50 kWh is billed at a set rate.  So no matter how little we use, I realized, we would always have to pay $11.51 per month.

But then, the very next day I read in the paper that rates were going up July 1st–but I couldn’t find the details anywhere until today–so now the basic delivery rate will be $12.88 for up to 50 kWh. (By the way, that would be .2576 per kWh if you used those 50.) The delivery rate for over 50 is going from .06302 to .066541.  This is in addition to the actual energy charge, which for us with CMP standard offer is an additional .064430 per kWh.

I wouldn’t be so angry if I hadn’t spent a day at the state house at the end of April listening to conservatives arguing that solar customers were getting a free ride and being subsidized by all other customers.  Here’s the thing I was thinking that day, assuming that we did have true net metering–where we only paid for the balance between what we generated and what we used–solar customers benefit the whole grid because we are adding energy to the grid during its highest use demands–summertime in the heat of the day.

And this is our earth we are talking about–we should be creating policies that encourage more and more renewal energy usage, or we won’t have a planet that can support human life anymore. Human life, anyone?  At this point in Maine, only on the hottest summer days do we even reach 1% of the total energy used being solar energy. Shouldn’t we be talking about how to increase that to 50%?  Not castigating those of us who have worked so hard to make a change, by calling us “elite” and acting like we are a drain on the rest of the customers?

Margy and I just spent a lot of money because we really care about the earth. It was almost impossible for us to do–we had to move to a new house and downsize our living situation to be able to afford the investment. But we really really care about the future of the earth. And we also hoped that as we grew older and had less financial resources, this would help us to get by.

But now I know that even if we use no energy at all from the grid, we must still pay 12.88 per month, to be able to be tied into the grid. And I understand that if everyone had solar panels tied to the grid (wouldn’t that be our dream future?) we collectively would have to find a way to maintain and support the infrastructure of the grid. But the attitudes of certain politicians in Maine are downright punitive towards solar customers.  While I was web surfing trying to find the new rates, I discovered that two years ago, they were trying to add a $25 monthly surcharge for solar customers.  It didn’t succeed that time, but everything will be reviewed again this coming year. Oh, and by the way, CMP is owned by the Spanish multinational corporation Iberdrola. So isn’t that the real issue–the privatization of public utilities and profits for the shareholders?

I am dealing with a bit of reality shock about all this–after the initial excitement about going for solar, I am discovering just how much of a battle is involved on so many fronts.  It caught me off guard. I called our solar installer and he apologized for this not being clearer up front–he thought he had explained it before. But I am curious–to those of you with solar in other states:  do you have any zero bills? How does it work where you live?

CMP Bill 0630161004

Sacred Space

Screen TentI am wondering, what is it about a screen tent that is so perfect for creating sacred space outdoors?  It is somewhat sheltered from the sun and rain, and from biting insects.  Yet, it is open to the earth beneath our feet, the air moving through the trees, the sounds and sights of creatures all around. So much of my connection to the land at our old home came from sitting outside in the screen tent hour after hour, day after day, paying attention, listening, sometimes lying on a blanket, often praying.

A couple weeks ago I put up a screen tent in our new back yard.  This one is green–our old blue one had disintegrated after last summer.  We had purchased this one several years ago on our last camping trip to Winslow Park–someone was selling it used at the campground, and since we loved our own so much, we bought it.  So glad now that we did.  Finally, this morning of the new moon, I came outside to pray and read my journal of this moon. Inside the tent there is a chair and a little milk crate table, and I brought a blanket to sit or lie down upon.

Today I have seen tiny sparrows chattering and feeding in the grass–I think it was a mother teaching her young one, because she gave it some food directly.  I saw the shadows of cardinals jumping from branch to branch in the underbrush.  The wild turkey came into the yard and rested beneath the pitch pine tree several yards away, and then while I was resting with closed eyes, she walked around, coming within a few feet–maybe checking me out.

I am reminded that I need to come out here more often in order to make a connection to this land which is new to us.  And this is my sacred space, this little tent, this beautiful yard. I feel so grateful!

New Rhythms

Common Yellowthroat

I was delighted to see this warbler yesterday on the trail heading home from Evergreen Ponds. The black mask identifies it as a male  Common Yellowthroat.  Meanwhile, I am adjusting my rhythms to July vacation days here in Maine. I have been sleeping a lot, and letting the disorientation of these open days circle me around to re-orienting my soul.

The last several months have been exhausting.  So I have been napping and moving slowly, and watching Netflix.  Today, I finally started unpacking a few more boxes–four boxes of books done–and soon we are going to the beach for an afternoon swim in this sunny warm weather. This morning, our next door neighbor brought over a gift of honey from their bee hives–now that is very local honey! Another neighbor introduced us to someone who mows lawns. There is so much still to do to settle in to this home.  But first, finding my way back to new rhythms.