Thursday, July 25, 2013
With the threat of high voltage power lines ripping through our Edenesque landscape, many of us are feeling guilty about not doing more to reduce our footprint. Some environmentally minded locals have already been taking action.
Perhaps most pivotal to the solar movement in Eureka Springs is Jerry Landrum. He can be found at the Eureka Springs Farmers’ Market under the shade of his boat-ramp-mounted solar panels that provide power for the market as well as the air conditioner keeping him cool.
Landrum is Chair of the Eureka Springs Climate Action Progress Committee responsible for carrying out projects outlined in the Committee’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan. One of the project’s aims is to have up to 2.5 megawatts of photovoltaics (solar panels) installed in the city in the next 30 years.
Landrum’s efforts to fulfill the plan have prompted him to find ways to help people go solar. In addition to keeping solar power in the public’s mind by his display at the market, he is there to answer questions and disseminate information. Landrum has also started buying solar panels at bulk rates and selling them at no extra cost.
Additionally, he put an ad in the paper seeking a local electrician who would work on solar installations. Lyle Pinkley, who had already done several solar jobs, responded. Carpenter Carl Evans also got in on the effort by designing solar brackets for mounting the panels. Evans then asked the Berryville Machine shop to reproduce the brackets, and they did so at a cost significantly cheaper than brackets for sale on-line. Evans said the idea is to use locals on the solar projects to help keep the local economy going. The combined effort means locals can buy solar panels and get them installed at a greatly reduced cost compared to hiring a solar contractor.
The team recently did a 12-panel job on the workshop of Michael and Faith Shah in the Keels Creek area. Faith, who said the couple quit their jobs in order to fight SWEPCO’s proposed high voltage power lines, explained, “We’ve always wanted to go solar... SWEPCO lit the match and got us off our butts.”
Michael said, “It has always been my dream to be able to use the sun to power my needs, to reduce the amount of reliance that energy-selling companies have on oil, coal and gas.” He said going solar is what’s “best for our country’s national security and best for our region’s natural environment.”
Michael explained the project is only partially finished and the couple plan to work toward going off grid once “we have defeated SWEPCO.”
Dr. Doug Hausler of Keels Creek Winery said when the winery was first planned they took a good look at going solar, but determined it would not be cost effective. “As a business the justification is harder when you’re looking at it as an investment,” he said. But due to the huge decrease in the cost of solar panels in recent years they are currently seriously researching the possibility again, and have been talking with Landrum. Hausler said the proposed SWEPCO project is also a “significant factor in rethinking. If you are telling people one thing and contributing to the things you’re telling SWEPCO not to do, it’s hypocritical.”
KJ Zumwalt is planning a solar installation with Landrum at her business, Caribé Cantina. She said her inspiration was in the May 2 edition of the Independent with Doug Stowe’s analogy with landlines and cell phones. “Landlines are pretty nonexistent now, as can be electricity dependence on SWEPCO or others if we go solar. So here we go!” Zumwalt said. “We are going to spend a chunk.” She said her budget is $20,000.
Landrum said one of the more difficult questions asked by those interested in going solar is, “how much can a solar panel power? There are so many variables involved, it’s hard to get a solid answer.”
How much sun the panel is exposed to is one variable. How often the power is used is another. Also, the question is muddied by the fact that when you go solar you are almost always also going to go super energy efficient. Landrum is a proponent of what he calls “load reduction therapy” and recommends the book, Low Carbon Diet by David Gershon, which he says is available at the Carnegie Library.
Solar powered houses “tend to be super well insulated, use LED light bulbs, take advantage of natural light and passive solar energy, and use energy efficient appliances,” Landrum said.
To help gauge energy needs, the library has “Kill A Watt” energy meters for loan. These handy devices measure energy usage of your appliances.
Landrum also advises people to go to the Take Action page at esclimate.org where one can find links to information about such things as energy efficacy rebates, federal tax incentives, and Arkansas’ weatherization program.
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