Frederick County residents can get a close-up view — and firsthand knowledge — of renewable energy sources this weekend as part of the Western Maryland Tour of Solar and Green Homes.
The free, self-guided tour, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, features 18 locations across Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Washington Counties each day. A full list of locations is available at www.marylandgoesgreen.org.
Homes have various energy-efficient and renewable energy features, such as solar and wind power, as well as appliances with low water use and homes that compost their waste.
The tour has been held more than 20 times across the state, but this year marks the third time it has focused on Western Maryland, according to Richard Maranto, president of RamDigital, and a blogger for MarylandGoesGreen.org, which sponsors the tour.
Maranto’s Middletown home, which has several renewable-energy features, is also part of the tour.
“It’s becoming more and more common, with people going solar,” he said. “If you look 10 or 20 years ago, solar was a little bit exotic, and now it’s becoming more normal. You can see people in your neighborhood that have it.”
Maranto said the homes on the tour are generally recommended by the installers of renewable-energy systems. The homeowners are able to help guide people who are curious about the energy-saving or energy-reducing benefits, he said.
One of the tour homeowners, Jefferson resident Ron Kaltenbaugh, who also participated last year, said he was inspired to explore green energy after taking the tours in other parts of the state.
His home has solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and energy-efficient appliances. Kaltenbaugh said his energy bills have been dramatically reduced — he only paid about $10 for connection fees for electricity through the summer, with the bulk of his energy use offset by the savings in the spring.
When the system produces more energy than it needs, the excess energy is sold back to the power company, he said.
Kaltenbaugh hopes to create more energy than he uses all year.
“The financial stuff helps pay for the effort, and the being green is the motivation behind the effort,” he said. “... My goal is to be net zero. We’re going to be close but not quite there. I’m always looking for the next thing that can help us.”
He said the cost savings is part of the draw for alternative energy sources, which was something he talked about with the 35 people who visited his home last year.
“It is kind of cool,” he said. “Most people dread the bill coming. I look forward to the bill coming. I want to see how well we did.”
But not all of the locations on the tour are homes. The Mountainside Camp in Urbana, which hosts summer camps and after-school programs, has multiple clean energy sources, including solar panels and a wind turbine, thanks to camp owner Joe Richardson.
Richardson said the windmill was installed in 2010 at an initial cost $156,000, although some of that was covered through government grants.
“Almost more than the energy, because of our facility, we wanted to be a mechanism where we can teach — that’s really what we want to be about,” he said. “... We’re trying to be good stewards of the environment.”
Richardson said the camp’s energy resources might be more difficult for a homeowner to replicate, but he hoped the tour would help visitors see some of the things they could do.
“Our goal is to be completely self-sustaining,” he said. “We want to grow our own crops, compost our waste and produce our own energy, which is beyond what most people are able to do. The energy costs aren’t going to ever go down. ... [Energy] independence is probably not achievable, but homeowners can mitigate their costs.”