SALEM — From his house on the banks of the North River, state Rep. John Keenan can see the sun rise over the tall stacks of Salem Harbor Station, the coal- and oil-burning power plant.
Keenan, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, has often been cast as a defender of the “filthy five” plant, the city’s No. 1 taxpayer, an aging facility that will close next year.
Now, he faces a new round of criticism from some environmentalists due to his support for a natural gas plant proposed for the site by 2016.
Against that backdrop, an interesting development took place last week on the roof of Keenan’s home. Solar panels were installed.
This is not a political stunt, Keenan said, but a personal decision by his family and a reflection of his belief that the state needs a mix of fuel sources, and that renewable energy, like solar power, plays an increasingly important role.
“We’re doing it, No. 1, because we think it’s the right thing to do, and No. 2, because I want to promote renewable energy,” the 48-year-old Keenan said while seated at a dining room table with his wife, Kara.
For the Keenans, solar panels also make financial sense.
Thanks to state and federal tax credits, rebates, utility bill savings and something the state calls “solar renewable energy credits,” the Keenans will pay off their nearly $32,000 solar system in five to six years.
The 25 panels on their roof will produce more energy than they consume, which means the Keenans may not pay an electric bill ever again.
“We can actually apply the credits to other people’s bills,” his wife said, “so we could pay my parents’ electric bill.”
The Keenans are not alone in their enthusiasm for solar energy. Massachusetts has experienced a virtual explosion of interest over the past few years.