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Woman fights against her retirement community to install more affordable energy source: ‘It became my hobby’

Residents began researching financing options, grants, and tax credits to offset the initial costs.

Residents began researching financing options, grants, and tax credits to offset the initial costs.

Photo Credit: iStock

When retirement community resident Susan Auslander found out that her care home spent over $1 million each year on electricity yet had no plans to convert to affordable solar energy, she took action. She stepped up with a five-year campaign that was impossible for the management to resist, the New York Times reported.

Auslander, 89, has spent the last six years in Meadow Ridge, a 285-apartment for-profit retirement community in Redding, Connecticut. Before retiring, she worked in public relations and fundraising, so the residents’ buildings committee was a natural fit for her.

Once she got involved, she found out electricity was one of the community’s biggest expenses, according to the Times. But that’s a solvable problem. Solar panels generate free power for decades as long as they’re exposed to sunlight — and while they do require an investment up front, they pay for themselves and then some.

So Auslander decided Meadow Ridge needed them. “It became my hobby — not my obsession,” she told the Times. “I wasn’t going to sit here in my rocking chair, clutching my pearls.”

Not only was it a smart financial choice, but many of the community members felt strongly about it, the Times said. Some had owned solar panels before moving to Meadow Ridge, either for financial reasons or because solar panels are eco-friendly. They generate electricity without producing heat-trapping air pollution that heats up the planet, unlike many other methods of producing power.

“Some people say, ‘In 15 years I’ll be gone, so I don’t care,’” Meadow Ridge resident Doug Dawson told the Times. “Some people say that, but not very many. Most think it’s a good thing to do.”

Despite broad support from the residents, Meadow Ridge management resisted the change, the Times reported. “They said, ‘We looked into it when we built the community, and it wasn’t feasible,’” Auslander told the publication. “I said, ‘The technology has changed a lot since then.’”

Auslander organized a solar committee among her fellow residents, who then spent five years campaigning and writing letters. They also worked with a local solar provider, Verogy, to create a proposal for the project. It included two parking lot shade structures and a rooftop installation, totaling 1,344 panels.

The solar committee also researched financing options, grants, and tax credits to offset the initial installation costs, saving Meadow Ridge even more money.

In December 2021, Meadow Ridge appointed a new executive director, Chris Barstein, the Times reported. Auslander seized the opportunity.

“Susan called me about the project for solar panels before I even walked in the door,” Barstein told the Times. “I was completely taken off-guard, but it was a good harbinger of what was to come.”

Meadow Ridge moved forward with the project, which the Times reported will prevent almost 670 tons of carbon air pollution each year.

Now Auslander’s group has begun campaigning for solar at other retirement communities in the area. “I’m used to testifying in front of town councils and stuff like that,” she said. “But I have to learn Zoom.”

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