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The Benefits of Solar Panels on Your Property

Thanks to the desire of individuals to start doing a better job of protecting the planet and the variety of tax breaks available to homeowners who make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, there has never been a better time than the present to “go green.”

Photo: Energy One Solar

From implementing rain barrels to capture runoff from roofs to installing energy-efficient windows and doors to reduce the costs of heating and cooling homes, there are many ways to make your residence more environmentally friendly. One of the simplest and most effective ways to go green is to utilize solar panels on your property. When used correctly, solar panels can absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity, helping to reduce—or even replace entirely—your need to rely on traditional methods for powering your home.

Photo: Green Mountain Energy

Although solar panels were first invented nearly two centuries ago, when in 1839 Alexandre Edmond Becquerel first discovered the photovoltaic effect that explains how sunlight can generate electricity, the development and use of solar panels didn’t become popular until the middle of the 20th century. The efficiency and popularity of solar panels have grown exponentially in the past several decades, and with the upfront costs of installing such systems on your property decreasing significantly in the past several years, thousands of homeowners are opting for solar options each year.

Photo: HGTV

Whether you’re considering going green and installing solar panels on an existing property—or you’re building a brand-new custom cottage and find yourself wondering if solar panels will be a good fit—the following information about the benefits of solar panels will help you decide if switching to solar will work for you.

Photo: Conservation Law Foundation
  1. Clean Energy: The most obvious and important benefit of bringing solar panels to your property is the fact that these products produce clean energy with no negative effects on the environment. Because the panels absorb sunlight and transform it into electricity that can be used for power, you will no longer be reliant on the use of fossil fuels—such as coal, oil and natural gas—which emit harmful gases and have the potential to leak or spill, contributing to both pollution and global warming.
Photo: National Geographic
  1. Renewable Option: Another key benefit of powering your home with solar panels is that solar power is a renewable source of energy. Unlike the finite sources of fossil fuels that power traditional electricity today, solar power will remain an option indefinitely because it derives its “fuel” from the sun. Although the exact timeframe is a hotly contested issue, many scientists argue that if we continue at our current rates of usage, the world’s reserves of finite fossil fuels could be depleted by the end of the 21st century.
Photo: Lime Energy
  1. Reduced Costs: While promoting green energy solutions is undoubtedly a reason many people opt to switch to solar power, perhaps even more important to many homeowners is the fact that solar power has the potential to reduce the amount of money you will pay to heat and cool your home and to provide electricity for your property. According to Solar-Nation.org, implementing a solar power system on your home can save homeowners between $47 and $187 each month in the first year alone.
Photo: CAM Solar
  1. Increased Property Value: As if saving hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on your electric bill weren’t reason enough to switch to solar, real estate experts suggest that outfitting your residence with a solar panel system can add serious value to your home should you decide to sell it down the road. In fact, CostOfSolar.com suggests that an investment in solar power will pay for itself several times over the course of just 25 years after installation. Plus, the organization also estimates that the retail value of a $500,000 home can be increased by as much as $20,000 once a solar panel system is implemented.
Photo: Zero Energy Solutions
  1. Incentive and Rebates: Searching for even more savings? When you install solar panels on your property, you automatically become eligible to receive a series of tax credits and rebates as a reward for going green. The most popular of these programs is the federal residential renewable energy tax credit. According to Energy.gov, U.S. taxpayers can claim a credit of 30% on qualified expenditures for solar energy systems placed on personal residences that are owned or used by the taxpayer.
    Photo: Discount Home Improvements
    Plus, some states even offer renewable energy incentive programs in which electric companies actually pay qualifying homeowners for their green energy contributions with cash or credits. In these scenarios, installing a solar energy system on your property won’t just help you save money each month—it will allow you to earn some extra cash too.

Sea Turtles on the Outer Banks

Photo: Pinterest.com

Every year, thousands of visitors venture to the sun-soaked shorelines of the Outer Banks of North Carolina in search of the perfect spot for rest and relaxation or the opportunity to partake in a wide array of recreational activities ranging from surfing to standup paddleboarding. However flip flop-clad vacationers hoping to spend a week making memories that will last a lifetime aren’t the only ones who travel hundreds of miles to spend time on the string of thin barrier islands that make up the so-called OBX.

Photo: National Park Service

Every year, from May until September, adult female sea turtles make the arduous journey from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of North Carolina to dig a hole deep down in the sand and lay dozens of eggs under the cover of darkness. Despite these sea turtles’ efforts to tuck their nest safely above the high-tide line, the majority of baby sea turtles that hatch from these eggs don’t survive longer than their first few days of life at sea—if they make it from the safety of the sand to the ocean waves at all. Those sea turtles that are fortunate enough to survive the trek to the sea are also faced with an assortment of natural and manmade threats with the potential to eliminate their chances of ever reaching adulthood.

Photo: Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.)

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), all sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed in the Endangered Species Act, which was signed on Dec. 28, 1973, and provides protections for species that are deemed threatened or endangered, as well as conservation of the habitats and ecosystems upon which they depend. From pollution, climate change and entanglement in debris to accidental capture by commercial fishing operations, strikes by vessels and destruction of their nesting and feeding habitats, a variety of threat pose serious risks for the survival of sea turtles today. These issues have caused a rapid decline in sea turtle populations since the 1930s, prompting conservationists to team up to help combat the threats these sea turtles face and to help increase their chances of survival.

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Seven species of sea turtles have been identified, five of which can be found along the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks: the loggerhead, leatherback, green, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill. When sea turtle nesting season begins on the OBX in May, female sea turtles come ashore to lay approximately 100-120 eggs the size of ping-pong balls in their nest, which is also called a “clutch.” The nest consists of a hole in the sand that is typically 1-2 feet in depth, and once the eggs have been laid, the sea turtle covers the hole and the eggs with sand before venturing back out to sea. Sea turtle nests are virtually invisible on the surface, with the turtle’s tracks from the nest to the water being the only way to tell any eggs were laid on the shore. Although female sea turtles only nest every other or every third year, during nesting years the turtle will return to the beach lay another nest of eggs every two weeks or so—typically resulting in a total of between four and seven nests per turtle.  

Most nests of eggs incubate under the sand for a period of 60 days before they hatch, but if the nests are made during cooler weather or shady spots, the eggs can take as many as 100 days to hatch. Volunteers—such as those involved with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.)—comb the coastline daily from May to September in search of turtle tracks that indicate the location of a new sea turtle nesting spot, and once a nest is found it is monitored closely throughout the duration of the incubation period. Wooden stakes and caution tape are used to create a square border around sea turtle nests on the Outer Banks to indicate their location and prevent them from being tampered with or driven over on four-wheel drive beaches. Volunteers keep a close eye on the nests, searching for signs of disturbance from people, animals and overwash, and watch for clues that the nest is about to hatch, or “boil.”

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

When a nest begins to hatch—which typically occurs during the evening hours—volunteers restrict access to a wide swath of shoreline from the dunes to the edge of the ocean to protect the hatchlings from beachgoers and other dangers. Nests can take several hours or even days to boil after the first signs of hatching occur, but once the process begins, all of the sea turtle hatchlings start their journey from the depths of the hole in the sand to the waves lapping at the shoreline within minutes of one another.

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Volunteers stand by to ensure all the hatchlings successfully make it to the sea without any inference from predators—such as seagulls—and help guide any wayward hatchlings that head the wrong direction back toward the water. It is the hopes of volunteers and conservationists alike that once these sea turtles have all been safely escorted to the sea, some will survive to adulthood and return to the shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina someday to begin the process all over again—and that one day sea turtle populations will flourish and they will no longer find themselves an endangered species.

Discover the Deserted Village on Portsmouth Island

Photo: Friends of Portsmouth Island

From Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills to Kitty Hawk and Cape Hatteras, the communities that compose the Outer Banks of North Carolina are coveted by travelers who seek an escape to the sun, surf and sand of this popular vacation destination. While Roanoke Island is best known for the disappearance of an entire colony of settlers centuries ago, and Ocracoke Island is infamous for being a popular haunt for Blackbeard the pirate, it is farther south, on Portsmouth Island, that you will find one of the most unique treasures the Outer Banks has to offer. Once a thriving fishing and shipping village, this now virtually deserted island is the perfect place to get away from it all in a spot where time seems to stand completely still. 

Photo: Our State Magazine

Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pamlico Sound to the west, Portsmouth Island lies fewer than five miles to the south of Ocracoke Island. The tiny spit of sand comprises only 250 acres, but thanks to its location, lack of development and very few visitors, it offers some of the best opportunities for fishing and shelling on the entire Outer Banks. Accessible only by private boat or hired ferry, Portsmouth Island isn’t a simple spot to get to, but those who make the journey will be rewarded with pristine stretches of shoreline, a wide array of wildlife and a glimpse back in time to what life on the island would have been like in its heyday nearly two centuries ago.

Photo: Ocracoke Observer

The first visitors to settle on Portsmouth Island arrived on the sandbar shortly after 1753, when blueprints for the first planned village on the Outer Banks were initially drawn up by European settlers. Prized for its convenient location along the edge of Ocracoke Inlet, the island quickly attracted mariners and in no time became a bustling port. By the mid-1800s nearly 1,500 cargo vessels were passing through the inlet that separates the islands of Portsmouth and Ocracoke, and more than 500 residents called Portsmouth home by 1850. A series of houses sprang up around the island, as did a post office, general store and lifesaving station.

Photo: Village Craftsmen

Despite enjoying success in the sea trade for a century after its founding, the port of Portsmouth Island saw a serious decline in the number of vessels passing through the Portsmouth Inlet after a hurricane cut two new inlets through Hatteras Island—Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet—in 1846, effectively joining the sound to the sea. These new inlets provided an opportunity for vessels to bypass Portsmouth Island entirely, favoring instead the points farther north, which offered easy access to inland points along the North Carolina mainland. With fewer and fewer vessels to assist and tend to as they passed through Ocracoke Inlet, the people of Portsmouth Island steadily began to lose their livelihoods in the lightering industry.

Photo: Our State Magazine

Slowly but surely, members of the tight-knit community parted ways, some in search of sea trade in other areas along the barrier islands and others in search of entirely new professions. By the turn of the 20th century, only a few dozen fishermen and their families remained on Portsmouth Island, along with a handful of island men who continued to serve at the lifesaving station that had been constructed in 1894. The lifesaving station was decommissioned in 1937, prompting more people to move away, and by 1955, only 12 islanders inhabited the village. Over the course of the next two decades, Portsmouth Island’s population continued to dwindle, and in 1971, only three people—two female residents, Elma Dixon and Marion Babb, and one male resident, Henry Pigott—were left. Later that year, Henry Pigott passed away, and rather than remaining on the island and continuing to rely on private boats to bring in supplies, Marion and Elma reluctantly relocated to the mainland.

Photo: Michael Halminski Photography

Once the ladies left the island, the 13-mile-long stretch of sandbar and the tiny village was abandoned entirely. For years, the buildings on Portsmouth Island were battered by storms and salt air, and with no one to perform the upkeep, the structures fell into a state of disrepair and were left to further deteriorate in the harsh elements. In 1976, however,  the Cape Lookout National Seashore was established, and an effort to restore the village and pay homage to its maritime heritage was launched.

Photo: Michael Halminski Photography

Among the structures that were renovated to their original condition were Henry Pigott’s house, the lifesaving station, the post office, general store and a Methodist church. Today, visitors to the Outer Banks can travel to Ocracoke Island and take a private boat or ferry to Portsmouth Island to learn about the unique history of the centuries-old village that, in its day, was one of the most important and most prosperous ports on the entire Eastern Seaboard.


Construction of the Sand Dunes that Protect the Outer Banks

Photo: Barbara Ann Bell

Whether you’re a vacationer or a local, when most people think of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, images of rolling sand dunes topped with swaying seagrass often come to mind. While these picturesque dunescapes make for some of the best photography on the entire Eastern Seaboard, few who wander the winding pathways between the dunes to reach to salty shoreline know the unique history of the manmade mounds of sand that protect private residences, vacation rental homes and businesses along the Outer Banks.

Photo: Outer Banks History Center

For centuries, the 200-mile-long string of sandbars that hug the North Carolina coast have served as a barrier between the mainland and the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean. Breaking waves slowly erode the shoreline while coastal winds blow the billions of grains of sand that comprise the beaches, causing the islands to shift ever so slightly westward over time. This natural migration of the barrier islands continued unchecked for hundreds of years, until the Outer Banks’ population swelled and the area began to attract vacationers—and the shifting sands posed a threat to property, infrastructure and livelihood.

Photo: Pinterest

In the early 20th century, long before the Outer Banks became the bustling vacation destination it is today, the beaches from Corolla to Nags Head to Hatteras Village were predominantly flat; the only sand dunes that dotted the coastline were piles of sand that had formed naturally as the island slowly edged toward the west. Oceanfront homes—modest by today’s standards—sprang up along the shore as well-to-do residents of inland communities created spots where they could escape the hot and humid summers and seek respite on the breezy beaches.

Photo: Dan Waters

While the shifting sands uncovered hidden treasures in some spots—such as long-buried maritime forests and centuries-old cemeteries where some of the islands’ earliest settlers were laid to rest—in other areas the blowing sand encroached upon houses, hotels and attractions, including the miniature golf course that today lies entombed beneath Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. But the intruding mounds of sand that threatened to swallow portions of the burgeoning beach towns weren’t the only concern of Outer Banks in the early 1900s. The threat of high storm surges that accompanied hurricanes and nor’easters was ever present, and when such a coastal weather system struck, the ocean overtook the island, oftentimes causing massive flooding from the sea to the sound.

Concerned for the future of the Outer Banks and its ability to continue to serve as a popular vacation destination for travelers from up and down the East Coast, residents, business owners and investors alike recognized the need for erosion protection on the towns’ beaches. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal, a series of federal programs that focused on providing economic relief from the Great Depression. The scope of the program spanned from housing and agriculture to labor and finance, and its development included the creation of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which provided federal funds to put Americans back to work. The National Park Service and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) joined forces and initiated a program that called for the development of manmade sand dunes along the Outer Banks that would be stabilized with vegetation and fencing.  

Photo: National Park Service

Military-style camps were constructed for housing on Roanoke Island and Hatteras Island, and as many as 1,500 workers from the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps spent seven days a week transforming timber and brush into sand fences and setting them up along the edge of the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean. Once the fences were in place, the blowing sand was prevented from passing the sand fence barriers, and a dune system began to take shape and steadily grow. Workers secured the sand dunes further by planting sea oats and cordgrass, whose roots would help to fortify the dunes as the vegetation grew.

Photo: National Park Service

The result of the workers’ effort—which was completed shortly before World War II began in 1941—was the construction of more than 3 million feet of oceanside sand fencing and a system of sand dunes that ranged in height from 10 feet to 25 feet tall. The sand dune project was considered a success, as the presence of the protective dunes prohibited storm surges from ravaging the island and flooding lowland areas along the Outer Banks. Today, the vast majority of these manmade dunes that were constructed along the coast throughout the 1930s still remain, and efforts are constantly underway to rebuild any dunes that are damaged or destroyed in coastal storms so that the sand dunes can continue to serve as a barrier that protects property and the people that call the Outer Banks home.

Photo: Debra Banfield
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