In this week’s post, I wanted to share a conversation I had with one of Sungage’s first customers: Jim Picardi. Jim discusses what it means to be a solar owner and provides his perspective on solar wealth.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
I am a self-employed cabinet maker; I work with environmentally-friendly building materials, including sustainably harvested woods and low or no VOC finishes. [Chris note: you can see Jim’s work here at www.jimpicardi.com]
I’ve lived in this house for 20 years. I built much of it myself and always did what I could, given my finances and available technology to minimize its energy inputs. I designed it as a solar house. It has perfect southern exposure. It’s well insulated and easy to heat.
I’m a huge promoter of solar energy. I became interested when I was in college in the mid 70’s studying environmental economics. It was a pretty nascent technology then. I’ve been talking about it ever since. I believe adding photovoltaic panels to my house is the culmination of that process.
Q: What’s your perspective on solar now that you’ve had your system for about one year?
The whole arrangement has worked out well for me. It feels great to be generating our own electricity for my home and workshop. And equally important, having solar hasn’t really effected my monthly expenses. Even though I have a monthly bill to service the loan, I have no electric bill, in fact, I have a negative balance from WMECO for the year. Assuming electric rates aren’t going down anytime soon, the monthly savings will continue to grow.
Q: Generally speaking, what does ownership mean to you?
I live at home, I work at home and I’m raising my daughter here. There is a huge upside to home ownership—and it’s not all measurable or tangible. You have to balance the upside with the downside. There always things that need repairing. It’s a money pit, but there’s the pride thing, too.
This house reflects a lot of my values and the panels are an extension of that. Also it was very important to me to build a house that fit in with the neighboring houses. That’s why it looks just like a traditional cape and people often guess it’s much older than it is. All of these things make it more than just a house, more than just the place you live. I’m very glad to own.
Q: Do you believe that solar ownership is important?
It is a philosophical thing. With a lease, you’re locked in for 20 years and you don’t even own it, you don’t get any of the benefits of the incentives. Some people lease cars, I could never make sense of the numbers. I’m sure there are people that can whip out those numbers and compare the lease or loan … this is what you would pay … here is the residual value. Decide for yourself! All of these things are hard for the average person to get their head around. At some point, you kind of follow your own gut instincts.
The most important thing is that it’s happening (solar). I think that people could benefit more by owning, but I had that great incentive and rebate to help me finance it. If you can afford the money upfront, do it. If you can’t afford the investment, don’t do it. If I wasn’t as much of an environmentalist, I might not have even looked into it. But you get a larger share as an owner. You get more control over it.
Q: Do you think that solar can be a smart investment for a homeowner?
Not everyone comes to solar because it’s the “right thing to do”; some people come to it because it’s a good investment. I think as an investment it makes sense for the average family. Savings on my electric bill pay the monthly loan payments and I’ve added equity to my house. Once the loan is paid off my electricity is free and I’ve still got the equity.
You could spend as much per month for cable and what kind of investment is that? There’s no equity, it keeps getting more expensive and you still have to watch the commercials.
When I talk about solar energy to others I always say: “I’d be very happy to talk to you about it. I can show you how the numbers work for me.”
Q: What does Solar Wealth mean to you?
It means ownership. My decision to install solar is tangled up in my philosophy and concern for the environment and minimizing my carbon footprint. Because I have to work for a living I also think of the return on investment. And there is a good return on investment if the incentives in place can be relied on into the future.
With alternative fuels I feel we are reaching critical mass technologically and economically . We’re still pushing the boulder up hill to make it financially feasible, at the same time the environmental costs of conventional fossil fuels are becoming more evident. It’s all coming to a head and there’s only one rational direction we can move in. (Do you follow CleanTechnica? On that blog you can see how the cost of technologies is coming down dramatically.)
There are improvements each year. Demand increases, technology improves, costs go down … we are moving in the right direction and as individuals we can help. Right now, we’re still pushing that boulder up hill. Once we push that boulder over the peak, there’s no stopping it. That’s the piece that will make return on investment even greater. As fossil fuels become more expensive alternative energy sources will become the new “conventional”.