Recently I spoke at the Solarize Bellevue ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the newly-installed solar array donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs Teen Center. It’s not often you get to share a stage with a mayor (Claudia Balducci of Bellevue), and not one but two mascots (“Blitz” from the Seattle Seahawks and someone called “Carbon Yeti”). So this was really a treat for me, and below is the speech I gave.

Four Reasons I’m Glad I Went Solar with the Solarize Bellevue Campaign

1) I feel a greater bond with my neighborhood and my city knowing that we did this together.

Some have asked me why, after years of thinking about getting solar panels, I finally dove in with a neighborhood Solarize campaign like this one. I could have just worked directly with an installer; there are quite a few now in the Seattle area.

But I like how Solarize Bellevue showed me that there are hundreds of others out there interested enough to show up at workshops around the city. It also showed me how several non-profit organizations in Bellevue wanted to get in on the fun, competing to win the prize of a free solar installation. And by the way: Congratulations to the winners of that competition, the Boys and Girls Club of Bellevue!

2) I got to know some great people.

The folks behind this program are smart, fun, hard-working people, and probably the best decision I made last year was to become a volunteer for Solarize Bellevue. Bret Turner at Northwest Electric and Solar really knows his stuff, and provided detailed answers to my questions as they came up. Ian Robinson ably assisted him during the campaign, and the three installers who came out to my house to do the real work of getting my panels up and running clearly loved their work.

Paul Andersson and Emma Johnson at the City of Bellevue provided invaluable management of the campaign, and of course Paula del Giudice of PPRC led the campaign with a steady hand and words of encouragement at all the right times.

3) Over the long term, I’ll be saving real money.

With tax breaks, incentives, low-interest loans, and leasing, solar panels have become a reasonable, affordable home-improvement option. My own system will pay for itself within 10-15 years, and many systems now available in the state see a return-on-investment even faster than that.

Just to take a quick example of the dollars and cents of going solar, let’s look at the impact of the federal renewable energy tax break. It’s a hefty 30 percent. When I signed my contract with Northwest Electric and Solar, they asked for two-thirds down and one-third on completion of the installation. At the time, I must admit I gulped a little bit as I wrote those two checks last fall. But now, just a few months later, I’ve gotten a tax refund that reflects the 30 percent renewable energy tax credit. In other words, Uncle Sam picked up nearly the whole amount of that second check I wrote.

Many people now think of solar as a wise investment opportunity, and when you have a program like Solarize Bellevue, which can reduce prices by taking advantage of bulk buying, it really does make sense financially.

4) I’m doing my small part to help the environment.

In thinking about solar, sometimes it helps just to take a step back and realize what a minor miracle this technology is. We can make electricity out of sunlight. Sunlight!

That means that now it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to blow up mountaintops just to get at some coal. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to risk life and limb to drill for oil in deep seas. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have to protect ourselves against the nightmare of radiation from nuclear accidents or waste. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to burn carbon-emitting fossil fuels or frack the land beneath our feet. We can, at least in part, make use of that quiet and undemanding gift called sunlight.

Thanks to Solarize Bellevue, I now generate half of my electricity right up on my roof. My hope is that through programs like Solarize Bellevue, and through the educational efforts of organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Bellevue, we’ll see more and more solar panels dotting the rooftops of our city!

November through February are pretty dark months in Seattle. Often you’ll leave for work before the sun comes up, and return home after the sun goes down. You might get a sunny week or two in January, but most years February’s got you searching for clinical definitions of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Because my solar array was installed last fall, I have been paying extra close attention to insolation statistics through this period, the darkest third of the year. I now have data for four full months of operation, which should essentially tell me the worst news I can hear about how my solar array is performing.

Chart showing monthly solar data

February has been the best month so far, with roughly 61% of our electricity needs powered by the solar panels. By contrast, December’s solar output offset only 32% of our electricity. Overall, we are seeing approximately 45% of our demand being supplied by solar power, with an average daily output of about 5 kWh from the renewable energy source.

At some point this summer (July? August?) I bet we’ll see a crossing of those lines on the chart, indicating that solar is providing full coverage of my electricity and then some. That said, this exercise has been a good reminder to me to work on limiting my consumption, at the same time as I cross my fingers for sunny days ahead.