The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote in our neighborhood newsletter about a woman who consciously decided to use her resources to pave the way for more mainstream, affordable solar options for others. One thing I found fascinating about talking to this environmental pioneer was that it was clear her work as a professional organizer and her individual thrift (which might not be readily apparent in the following interview) have been paramount in making her dreams come true. I know from speaking to her over the years that she's extremely careful in budgeting and in setting up financial and household systems to help her to make her goals a reality. It's fascinating to realize how powerful it can be to simply use your existing resources wisely. As my neighbor strode across her post-dinner household, instantly located and flipped a binder open to a section on energy sourcing (I caught a brief glimpse of every household appliance manual), I realized once again how useful it can be to simply be organized. This woman carefully tracks her decisions. She'd conducted her project, start to finish, with the idea that not only could she clean up her own energy, but that she'd be prepared to share her experience with her neighbors. What an inspiration.
PT’s been on a mission since 2006 to install solar panels on her Washington, D.C., rowhouse. “We do a lot to reduce our energy consumption. But I kept thinking about my air conditioning – and I wanted to be able to keep cool using clean energy.” So, the intrepid professional organizer tackled the daunting task of sourcing and installing alternative energy sources for her home. PT readily agreed to speak to the local Gazette about her “two-year relationship” with her renewable energy provider in order to help spread the word about the feasibility of going solar in her neighborhood.
Initially inspired by a good friend who installed solar panels (whose husband is in the solar industry), PT signed on to work with a local company called Standard Solar. She said the application process for a DC grant couldn’t have been easier: “The Standard Solar guys came up with the proposal. They helped us write the grant.” She then added a letter to the boilerplate that outlined her desire to serve as a blueprint for others to follow. PT felt strongly that, since “we could afford it…we could be a model for others in the neighborhood.”
PT's family submitted their application for a DC grant early in 2007. By May of that year, she attended an event at the DC Department of the Environment to publicly honor the recipients.
PT’s roof now has nine solar panels, each roughly the size of a door. She estimates that half of their household power will be generated by their panels when they are up and running. She notes that they were “limited by space” from going totally off-grid. When asked why she wanted solar panels badly enough to devote years of her life and thousands of dollars to the project, she says that going solar is: ”all within my vision of what I want my house to do. My house is already green because it’s so small. I choose to line dry all of my clothes and I use blackout lining curtains on my windows. But we wanted to be pioneers…. I had this dream of making energy in a clean way.”
PT says that the DC Department of the Environment grants are a huge incentive for folks willing to go (partially) off the grid. “There’s no way we would have done this without DC’s grant. It would have been twenty five thousand dollars – ridiculous!” With DC grant money, however, the tab for the household’s nine solar panels will come in well under $10,000. PT’s husband, RB, points out the obvious math: even with DC grant and tax credits, the project would take fifteen years to save them money on their electricity bills. PT felt strongly, though, that being pioneers in adopting solar would help pave the way for more sustainable energy options for the larger community. “The thing that’s exciting is that things have changed even since we started,” she says. PT says she’s heard there is a solar co-op that’s formed in Mt. Pleasant. They’re applying for a group grant from DC and will buy in bulk, using the economies of scale to make the process more economical and eco-friendly (for instance, if they need a crane, they’ll all use it at one time).
PT’s longstanding dream “to be part of the movement of renewable energy” is about to come to fruition. In January of 2009, her household will flip a switch and half of their electricity will come from sunshine instead of our local energy company.
Once the panels are live, in January, PT and Standard Solar plan to present a slide show and info session for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at the local elementary school. PT's kids are pretty excited about the project at their house. The ultimate litmus test? They shared their Halloween candy with the Standard Solar workers.
According to PT, there’s a new tax code coming in 2009 that will make the process even more affordable, and she highly recommends Standard Solar. “I had heard that alternative energy people can be flaky.” But, she says, when she has had questions, the company’s been responsive, and when working on installation, the SS crew “was incredibly respectful.” Thanks to the initial investments of early adopters like PT, the rest of us in the mainstream can more easily start to talk about using solar to generate electricity.
Next up for the green pioneers? The family’s thinking about a tankless water heater, radiant heat, a whole house fan, an expanded container garden, and an outdoor line for clothes drying. Oh, and next summer, when it’s sweltering outside? I will smile when I walk by PT’s place knowing she’ll be having her cake and eating it too: keeping cool using the power of the sun.
Contact Standard Solar at info at standardsolar dot com or the DC Dept. of the Environment at 202/535-2600.