On August 9th, 2011 I saw the wheel on my electric service meter go backwards for the first time, and it was a wonderful, almost giddy feeling. Finally, my house was using the sun's rays to silently create the electricity I would be using to run the lights, appliances, computers, and other plug-in components of my life. I couldn't be happier.
I've followed the development of solar energy's capability to create electricity commercially for a long time. I was so disappointed in the early days to see that alternatives to oil and gas couldn't get the funding necessary to get started – that petroleum companies couldn't or wouldn't embrace the opportunity of being energy companies and fund the research and development of alternative energy sources themselves.
My life and my jobs kept me moving around from place to place for many years, but finally, 15 years ago, I settled down in Goleta and bought a house. I considered investing in solar panels from time to time through the years since then. The cost was the main obstacle, but I also needed to investigate my alternatives so I could make the best choice. I also had the nagging feeling that if I waited, the technology and therefore the cost would make it more affordable and efficient.
In the meantime, I've done what I could to live my life with the conservation of our natural resources in mind and to limit my contribution to waste and pollution. I drive my car (a Prius) as infrequently as possible, opting for biking and sharing rides and just not going to some events that require driving. I have rain barrels and a compost bin, a worm bin, and a community garden – the garden is shared with friends who can't have gardens of their own. I wash and reuse plastic zipped-locked bags and cut paper towels in half down the middle (something my Mother used to do). I hang my clothes to dry on a line in the backyard and on nifty clothes racks. My light bulbs are the energy efficient kind, of course, and my Christmas lights are LEDs. And I've finally trained myself to keep cloth bags in my car and with my bike and take them with me into the grocery store.
The Community Environmental Council's (CEC) Solarize Santa Barbara program came along at the same time that I decided that it was a good time to get out of one of my mutual fund investments. With the CEC taking on the hard work of choosing particular solar panel contractors to work with and negotiating reasonable costs and a rebate, it was obviously the time for me to get serious about installing solar panels. The process of signing up and getting an initial estimate was so easy. I was able to review the estimated costs and projected savings and talk to a representative from the REC Solar, the company that I was assigned to work with.
During this preliminary step, I pondered seriously whether installing solar panels was worth the cost and whether the projected 13-year payback period was a show-stopper. I was finally convinced that it was the right thing to do – good for the environment, a way to support the solar service companies, and a better investment for my money than the stock market. The immediate rebate and the Federal Tax Credit for solar installations also factored into my decision.
The installation process was trouble-free. Two very nice and experienced REC employees spent about a day and a half installing the racks, inverter unit, the panels, and the electric conduit from the panels to the inverter and then to my fuse box. Even though it was a foggy day when it was finally hooked up, the electric meter was going backward right before my eyes! It was a wonderful thing to see! I'm so glad the CEC's Solarize Santa Barbara program came along at the right time for me and that I was smart enough to take advantage of it.