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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

House a model of energy efficiency

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ralph Semrock, whose goal is energy self-reliance, mounts the earth-bermed rear of his home. Ralph Semrock, whose goal is energy self-reliance, mounts the earth-bermed rear of his home.
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When we last checked in on Ralph Semrock almost a year ago, two or three dozen visitors who had grown weary of rising energy bills stood in awe in the basement of his largely unfinished and totally unconventional home in rural Ottawa County.

From thick Styrofoamlike wall insulation to radiant heat he now has coming up from beneath his basement's seven-inch-thick floor, Mr. Semrock went down the list of his futuristic home's $35,000 worth of energy-tight features.

Called Solterra - a hybrid of words that mean "sun" and "earth" - his house is one of the featured attractions of Saturday's third annual Ohio Solar Tour, sponsored by Green Energy Ohio.

Many other residences on the tour - including Gov. Bob Taft's mansion - will focus mostly on how solar panels can be incorporated into an existing design to help offset heating-fuel needs.

Mr. Semrock predicted he would someday fulfill his dream of becoming nearly self-reliant for power, weaning himself off electricity provided by FirstEnergy Corp. for all but the nonpeak times for harnessing wind and solar power.

That day may not be far off, though Mr. Semrock and his wife, Leah, won't really know how close they are until they're settled in early next year.

Ralph and Leah Semrock are serious about saving energy. Solar panels are visible on the roof of their house. Ralph and Leah Semrock are serious about saving energy. Solar panels are visible on the roof of their house.
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They expect to have the interior of their Allen Township home, 10 miles east of Oregon on Curtice EW Road, done by year's end.

But Mr. Semrock said the house actually generated more energy than it used in June, July, and August, though the summer was one of the hottest on record. Because of Ohio's net-metering law, the utility must compensate him at least partially for putting more energy on the grid than he used.

For June, his credit was 67 cents. For July, it was $2.25. He doesn't know the August figure yet but is sure it'll be in his favor.

That won't make him rich. But given that people with comparable-sized homes had electric bills of $200 or more for those months, Mr. Semrock is thrilled.

Mr. Semrock estimates it'll take him 18 years to pay off his investment at today's rates. But he said it'll be worth it because of his "altruistic" views on alternative energy.

"I want to prove to people this does work," said Mr. Semrock, an Owens Community College professor who owned a solar energy business from 1978 to 1981.

He said Solterra will show how homes built from scratch can have several aspects of energy efficiency in their design.

From the outside, it seems the kind of place where hobbits from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings might have chosen to live if the classic Middle Earth fantasy was set in modern times. Three of its four sides are earth-bermed. It has its own wind turbine and solar panels.

The Semrock home, the governor's mansion, and others on the Ohio Solar Tour must be open to the public for tours one day a year because state grant money from the Ohio Department of Development was used to offset the cost of installing solar panels or other devices.

For the first time, northwest Ohio will have a number of guided tours, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Center for Development and Training on the Owens campus. Eighteen sites will be open.

A University of Toledo bus that runs on biofuel will shuttle people to the First Solar manufacturing plant in Perrysburg Township, then to three area residences, over to UT, and back to Owens.

Self-guided tours between 1:30 and 5 p.m. will include the Semrock home and that of a First Solar employee, Sylvania Church of Christ, and the state's first commercial-scale wind farm, near Bowling Green. Admission requires $5 for a tour book. Couples and families may get in on the $5 tour by sharing books, Jessica Belcher, northwest Ohio's event organizer, said.

Registration is required. To sign up, call Jessica at 419-575-2686 or e-mail her at jessica@greenenergyohio.org.

Information also can be obtained at an alternative energy workshop being co-hosted on the UT campus by Green Energy Ohio and the university. Scheduled to last five hours, the workshop begins at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow at UT's former EISC building at 2600 Dorr St. Residential and commercial perspectives are to be offered.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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