BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — For the woman who has everything, how about a roof full of solar panels for a birthday gift?
For her upcoming 50th birthday, Maureen Gilbert is thrilled her husband, Andy, is bestowing the unique present of solar power.
The gift is not a surprise — how could one disguise the fact that strangers have been clambering atop their Ocean Avenue house with cumbersome panels?
But Andy Gilbert said he wanted to do the right thing by providing a gift that his wife would appreciate, so they agreed on the solar initiative together.
With a call to SunBug Solar, the city’s solar-energy supplier, plans for the birthday gift were finalized.
She calls it “the gift that will keep on giving.”
“We’re a green family, with composting, a garden, wood heating, and we’ve talked about solar for years,” Maureen Gilbert said. “After attending sessions at Solarize Newburyport, we felt that our house, facing south, could be right for solar panels.
“The SunBug people came out, analyzed our property and after the paperwork was done, the work started. It has gone very smoothly.”
The panels on the south-facing rooftop took less than four days to install, and the system is expected to be approved and turned on in coming days.
In recent months, city officials have embraced the Solarize Newburyport program to encourage solar energy.
While almost half of the houses and businesses in the city don’t qualify, either because of too much shade or because they are facing the wrong direction, the Gilberts’ house made the cut.
Their project is believed to be the largest residential solar installation in the city. The bill for the system is about $47,700. The couple is counting on rebates and state and federal tax credits to help offset the cost.
“When her birthday was coming up, we talked about a gift such as jewelry or a trip, but we chose the solar system,” said Andy Gilbert, a regional manager for a packing company. “We plan to stay in this house for many years, and installation of solar makes sense when looking at the future.”
The Gilberts’ house receives a plethora of sunlight and they are able to fill many of their heating needs through use of a wood stove. Now solar — courtesy of the more than 30, 6-by-3-foot panels — will complement their electricity needs.
The couple, who moved here 19 years ago, are not getting off the grid entirely. But they feel that solar power will help them cut down on utility costs.
“If we can get our (three) boys to turn off the lights, we can really save on energy,” Maureen Gilbert joked.
The system will collect and direct energy for those times the household needs it.
“In the past, the price seemed so high,” Maureen Gilbert said. “Costs have come down. Plus the design of the panels is better; like those dishes for television, they have gotten smaller and aren’t as obvious.”
Molly Ettenborough, recycling and energy coordinator for the city, said about 40 residences and businesses have signed up for the solar energy program.
Participants say that having one city-approved vendor — SunBug — has been helpful in providing a single support system to help answer questions, complete paperwork and schedule installation.
Maureen Gilbert said that she believes her family will recoup the cost of the installation within eight years.
“Our house gets so much sunlight,” she said. “It would be a waste not to take advantage of it.”