Thursday, October 17, 2013
Michael and Faith Pettit-Shah retired from Washington, D.C. to a homestead in rural Carroll County south of Eureka Springs just in time to learn that American Electric Power (AEP)/Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) planned a huge high voltage transmission line in their neighborhood. They learned it had not been proved to be necessary. The Shahs have since been very active with the citizen group opposing the power line, Save The Ozarks, but have also gone a major step further by installing 12 solar panels on their woodworking studio.
“Both Faith and I felt in the past five years the energy and utility industries have bought their way solidly into both political parties, and it would be almost impossible politically to affect most of the changes needed to save the climate,” Michael Shah said. “Many people who are on the same page feel powerless because of the amount of money and political clout the opposition has built up over recent years. Pat Costner and Doug Stowe dug into the SWEPCO power line proposal and explained that this wasn’t needed. Even if it were needed, we wouldn’t feel good if we are part of the reason to drag power lines through the woods of this fragile place we call home now. We knew we had to pull ourselves away from the power grid. Our motivation is solely directed at the future of the planet and the welfare of our children and our grandchildren.” Shah said they wanted to install solar panels as an example to others, including the utility companies. They chose the least expensive and most direct way to achieve the maximum benefit. Instead of storing the solar energy in batteries for use at night or days without sun, they installed twelve 220-watt panels that provide electricity to their studio when the sun is shining, with excess power sold back to Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp (CECC). At night they buy power from CECC.
The Shahs got their panels through climate protection activist Jerry Landrum, who has a solar panel demonstration each Tuesday at the Eureka Springs Farmers’ Market. The Shahs plan on purchasing another 12 panels for solar power production, and Landrum has also helped them set up a small solar panel to aerate their pond.
“Even with cloud cover, my two-foot by three-foot solar panel powers a pump that is aerating my pond,” Shah said. “And that setup was $200.”
The Shahs would like CECC and SWEPCO to realize how simple and inexpensive solar panels are, and that utility companies could be leasing the panels to home and business owners instead of building more and more power lines. Many electric companies are doing that elsewhere in the U.S.
“It is better for national security, it is better for the environment, and it is better for their bottom line,” Shad said. “I’m a business man. Leasing arrangements are much more profitable than sales.”
Faith Shah said they had been thinking about solar for years.
“We had concerns about climate change, but the threat of high voltage towers put us into action,” she said. “If more homes had a few panels on the roof, it would take care of the reliability issue SWEPCO is making such a big deal about. I’m hoping this scary time is going to push everyone into action. I think we could prevail. I think we could be known as a solar town. Isn’t that exciting?”
Shah doesn’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t like electricity. “We just don’t think the Ozark highlands are legitimate collateral damage for high voltage power lines,” she said.
Shah said they wanted to demonstrate that what they are doing isn’t cheap, but it is doable. Another interesting facet of the project is that their neighbor, Carl Evans, devised a bracket for installing the solar panels that was produced in Berryville, not China.
“Then my brother, David Pettit, Michael and Carl installed it in a 24-hour period,” Shah said. “I have to credit Jerry. He said it is easy, and it was. You have to get a net metering agreement with Carroll Electric, and must have a certified electrician put the meter in. Lyle Pinkley was our electrician. Then CECC came out and put in the net meter. You can see when you are receiving electricity from CECC and you can see when you are sending it to them.”
The CECC employee who came out to install the meter said it was probably the best small home installation he had seen. “He actually wanted to know more about it,” Shah said. “He was interested. He did think it was a really, good efficient way to produce power.”
Their woodworking studio, which used to be an old milk barn, has perfect southern exposure to get maximum solar power production. The 12 panels can produce about 720 kilowatt-hours per month. The average home uses about 920 kilowatt-hours per month. The Shahs have purchased a second dozen panels that will go on the same roof.
Solar panels can serve double duty by providing shade. The Shahs have planned a solar panel that will provide shade in the backyard eating area and power a waterfall pump. Don Matt and Judy Griffith have installed solar panels to provide shade awnings at their home south of Eureka Springs.
Shah said making an investment in solar panels can also make you more conscious of how to save energy by using LED lights and unplugging appliances when they aren’t in use.
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