Tag Archives: Solar energy

Solar Panels, Net-Zero Efficiency: John Rountree Is Energized

When solar panels were installed on the Westport Fire Department headquarters roof, it was one of the first such projects for any Connecticut municipality.

There are solar panels at the Westport train station too.

And on many homes in town — including John Rountree’s.

But the architect, and longtime solar power advocate, wishes there were more.

John Rountree

Rountree is no Johnny-come-lately to the benefits of converting the sun’s energy into electricity. He was studying architecture at Syracuse University when President Carter installed solar panels on the White House roof. (president Reagan removed them a few years later.)

Rountree incorporated solar into his own work, first with Valus & Carpenter and then at his own firm. For several years he also ran a solar consulting business.

The other day, he sat in his sunny home office, on Compo Road South. Rountree and his wife Cheryl have lived — and raised their 2 now-adult children — there since 1997.

They’ve done plenty of work on what was once a dilapidated 1910 home. Solar panels on it, and a nearby free-standing garage, are important (and money-saving) parts of their lives.

His house is not Net-Zero. (The term refers to super-efficient design and construction that can generate up to 100% of the energy it consumes, through renewable energy systems. With thick walls, high levels of insulation, high-performance windows, meticulous air sealing, balanced ventilation, well-functioning electric heat pumps and photovoltaic panels, they are quiet, well-ventilated, and extremely comfortable.)

But in 2015 he was hired to design a Net-Zero house on North Avenue, near Staples High School. The electric bill for the 7,000-square foot home is just $40 a month.

The owners don’t hear any traffic. And the air quality is “exceptional.”

Net-zero, on North Avenue. (Photo/Videler Photography)

Rountree is an advocate for anything that increases energy efficiency, and helps reduce carbon footprints.

More and more, he says, that’s what clients ask for.

Such design — whether new construction or part of a renovation — is more costly, by about 8-10%. However, he energy savings pay for themselves in just a few years.

The challenge is that not many contractors know how to build like that.

Nor do they want to.

“I don’t want to badmouth them,” Rountree says. “But adding 10% to the cost of a spec house can be a hard sell. So it really has to be a custom job, for a specific client willing to pay for it.”

Still, he says, “when you explain the benefits, why wouldn’t you build that way?” (The federal government offers tax credits for Net-Zero construction too, as well as up to 30% for solar panels. There are also state credits for energy efficiency.)

Solar panels are not just for homes. This is a rendering Roundtree made for Westport fire headquarters. The actual view today looks very similar.

These days, much of Rountree’s work involves renovations. “It’s hard with walls that are just 2x4s,” he says. “It’s a little easier if you take the siding off to add windows; then you can add insulation. Sometimes you do the best you can, with what you’re given.”

Solar panels are less difficult to install (and explain). All that’s needed is southern exposure, and few overhanging trees. (Rountree cringes when he sees panels on northern exposure, or hidden by branches.)

As he gives a tour of his own sustainably designed home — showing and describing his roof panels with its heat-recovery system, his European wood-burning stove with a built-in bake oven, and the array of batteries and pumps in the basement — Rountree is content.

John Rountree has added solar panels to his house, and a nearby garage.

He’s doing what he can, personally and professionally, for the environment, and the planet.

He’s raising awareness, so others can do the same.

On this chilly early spring day, his home is brightly lit.

And very, very warm.

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Roundup: Elsa, Jerky, Solar …


Today’s storm did not do the damage that was feared.

Approximately 756 customers were without power at the peak of the storm. Most were restored quickly. Isolated individual outages remain.

Meanwhile, Valerie Ann Leff sent this photo of her furnace room, in her home on a hill off Hillspoint Road.

She says: “The water hasn’t reached the finished wood floor, but when we walk across it it sounds like we’re walking on a dock. Every cleanup company around has long waiting lists, so we’re just bailing with a bucket and a big pitcher.”

(Photo/Valerie Ann Leff)

Meanwhile, this was the scene at Compo Beach:

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

One more photo from today’s storm. This was on Bradley Lane:

(Photo/Diane Lowman)


In 2018, Field Trip moved its headquarters from Brooklyn to Westport.

Their office — across the Post Road from Design Within Reach — was where they created and marketed an array of healthy, protein-rich jerky snacks. From beef, chicken, turkey and pork to jalapeño, cracked pepper and everything bagel, it all happened in Westport.

Next store to the office, they operated a low-key retail outlet. It wasn’t an afterthought exactly, but it wasn’t front-and-center either.

Now though, there are some good reasons to take a field trip to Field Trip.

The jerky outlet has been transformed into a “general store/pantry.” It’s filled with specialty items, curated from the owners’ relationships and knowledge of exciting new products.

In addition to Field Trip items, they’re selling:

  • Bourbon aged barrel maple syrup
  • Jalapeño bacon salsa
  • Habanero sea salt
  • Texas olive oil
  • Bacon brittle
  • Ugly dried fruit
  • Caramels, licorice and ChiChi chocolates
  • Doux south pickles and mustards
  • 1934 Bloody Mary mix
  • Coro salami
  • Bjorn corn
  • Bobby Sue’s nuts
  • Aina Kopi steak seasonings  and mango habanero hot sauce(this is the only US location)
  • FOGO charcoal (only place in Westport.

And that’s just for starters.

If you still have a jones for jerky: Starting next week, Field Trip is selling their newest flavor: Gochujang Korean-style BBQ beef jerky. It’s being introduced here first, before a national rollout.

But wait! There’s more! Field Trip offers a 20% discount code to anyone mentioning a Dan Woog/”06880″ callout during the month of July.

Best. Field trip. Ever.

Look what’s in store at the Field Trip store.


Pippa Bell Ader uses solar power to heat and cool her home, heat her hot water pumps, and power her electric car.

Now the environmental advocate and Sustainable Westport member wants you to learn how.

This Tuesday (July 13, 3 to 6 p.m.), she invites everyone to her 62 Woodside Avenue home. She’ll show how you can make easy improvements yourself.

“In Connecticut, we have older homes — mine was built in 1929 — that use a lot of energy, especially for cooling and heating,” she says.

“The state has great incentives and financing for people who want to switch from fossil fuels to heat pumps. Pair heat pumps with solar to power and heat your entire home with clean energy. Driving an electric car powered by solar reduces our carbon footprint as well. I’m right on the cusp of being completely net zero.“

Learn all that — and more — on Tuesday. Plus there’s pizza. Made in a solar-powered oven, I’m sure.


Like many organizations, Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services had to suspend some operations during COVID. Among the casualties: the EMR/ EMT classes that were an important pipeline for new members.

And for careers. At least 14 volunteers went on to medical school; others became nurses, paramedics and physician assistants.

Classes will begin again in the fall. The cost — $1250 per EMT student, $750 per EMR student — includes classes, books, stethoscope and BP cuff. Most classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings, with some Saturday days. The course begins September 21, and runs through January.

WVEM will reimburse for the cost of the class after members become part of the organization. Click here for more information.


Arlene Benson — mother of longtime Westport civic volunteer Rick Benson — died peacefully in East Norwalk on July 1. She was 98.

A member of Wheaton College’s Class of 1944, the Buffalo native moved to Fort Riley, Kansas, then Southern California shortly after her 1943 wedding, then back to Buffalo when her husband deployed to World War II in North Africa and Europe.

She shared Ontario cottages for many summers with her sister, their boys, and her mother, enjoying the beach, swimming, sailing and golf. She and her husband purchased condominium homes in Florida. She moved to Connecticut in late 2017 at age 94 to be closer to her son and grandson.

A member of the Garrett Club, Cherry Hill Country Club, Buffalo Canoe Club, and the Country Club of Buffalo, Arlene loved to host parties, travel to Europe, take cruises, play golf and bridge, and be with her family.

She will be remembered as a loving, generous, caring person, always with a smile, always with something nice to say, and always concerned about others more than herself.

Her passing is the end of an era.  Her maternal grandfathers emigrated from Germany in 1905, started Mollenberg-Betz Machine Co, Inc. in 1910. Her husband joined the firm in 1946, rose to EVP and retired in 1986.  The commercial air conditioning, refrigeration and service company is still family owned and managed in Buffalo, but she is the last of her generation.

Arlene is survived by her son Richard and his wife, Totney of Westport, CT, and her grandson Richard Betz Benson II (RB) of New York City. She was predeceased by her first husband James M. Benson, her older son James M. Benson, Jr., her sister Janice Betz Dedecker, and her second husband Robert Eckis.

A celebration of life reception will be held on Thursday July 15 (4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Greens Farms Congregational Church).

A memorial service will be held on September 8 un Buffalo, with private interment preceding in the church memorial garden. Donations may be made in her memory to: Westminster Presbyterian Church 724 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY 14209 or the Westport Rotary Club Foundation, PO Box 741, Westport, CT 06881.

Arlene Benson


“Westport … Naturally” features a fantastic female monarch butterfly.

It paused on several of the flowers in Wendy Crowther’s garden. She was glad to see it, as monarchs are in drastic decline. “The more we can do to avoid herbicide use and provide a welcome habitat, the more we can help,” Wendy says.

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)


And finally … in honor of this monarch butterfly, and its declining population:

Solar Project Application Withdrawn

Earlier today, “06880” reported that tonight the Planning & Zoning Commission would consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus.

Less than 4 hours before the meeting, Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich advised P&Z director Mary Young that the plans — submitted by Greenskies Clean Energy, on behalf of the town — were being withdrawn.

“The Administration has decided not to pursue this project at this time,” Ratkieweich said.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels

P&Z Hears Solar Energy Request Behind BMS

The Planning & Zoning Commission usually takes August off.

But before they do, a solar energy project is on the docket. Today (Thursday, July 16, 5 p.m., Zoom meeting) they’ll consider a text amendment, special permit and site plan application for “solar-based electric generating facilities” on the Bedford Middle School campus. They’ll be mounted on the ground (not canopies).

Greenskies Clean Energy has been granted a town lease to produce electricity there. The firm seeks a variance to mount 20-foot solar panels in the grassy area behind the school, and remove 10 trees.

The project includes modules in both corners behind the school.

One section of the site backs up to property on Woody Lane. The other part backs up to High Point Road.

The site plan for Bedford Middle School. The proposed solar panels are indicated by hatch marks near the center of the map. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The meeting will be livestreamed on http://www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 68 and Frontier channel 6020.

A close-up view of the work proposed. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Here Comes The Sun? Ed Paul Is Not So Sure.

This morning’s “06880” post involved energy costs. This one does too — specifically, solar.

Solar energy is getting plenty of press. His curiosity piqued, alert “06880” reader Ed Paul signed up with Westport’s Green Task Force. He wanted to learn about installing solar panels at his house.

A company called Astrum provided a proposal. Ed was stunned at the cost: over $51,000 — after rebates and incentives.

Based on his current CL&P bill, the system would save about $3,500 a year. At that rate, it would take over 14 years just to break even.

And, Ed notes, “it seems that solar panels have a limited life span. They start to lose efficiency after 10 or 15 years.”

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award -- but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award — but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

He wonders if his situation is unique. He’d like to hear from other “06880” readers. If you’ve gone solar, did you do it save money? Or was it simply an environmental-based decision?

“I’d love feedback from solar users on their experiences and cost savings,” Ed says.

Click “Comments” to share your thoughts. And — in the spirit of sunshine and openness — please use your full, real names.