Climb up the long, steep driveway to Ann Wyatt’s house in Pendleton, and they are hardly noticeable. But tucked away on top of the carport are nine shiny solar photovoltaic panels.
“I think solar is the way to go,” said Wyatt, 82. “It doesn’t distract from anyone’s sleep. It doesn’t slice and dice birds. It doesn’t destroy the environment maintaining the system.”
Wyatt is one of a growing number of Pendleton residents who have solarized their homes by taking advantage of incentives, rebates and tax credits available from a variety of sources, including state and federal government and the Energy Trust of Oregon.
Harvesting energy from the sun is hardly a new idea, but in the past year Pendleton has seen a marked increase in solarized homes, thanks in large part to a push by the city of Pendleton to promote solar power.
Wyatt’s system had a sticker price of $13,145, but an ETO incentive credit worth $3,105 reduced her cost to just more than $10,000. After her state and federal tax credits are paid out during the next four years, her out-of-pocket expense will be about $1,300.
Despite the discount, Wyatt said she has another reason for embracing solar energy.
“I guess it’s because I was a Depression child,” she said. “Back then we didn’t have clothes dryers. We didn’t have these energy slaves. As I matured, I became a tree hugger of sorts, then they called us eco-nuts — now we’re greenies.”
Wyatt spent her childhood learning to appreciate the outdoors, thanks to her parents. When she married her husband, Jake, her love of Mother Nature continued.
“(We) fished and camped and bird-watched,” she said. “We’ve always been interested in environmental things.”
A widow for more than 20 years, Wyatt moved to Pendleton four years ago after 57 years in Boise to be closer to her daughter, Jill, who lives in town. She said her age initially made her wary of installing solar panels since she isn’t sure how long she will remain in her house, but said the positives outweighed her doubts.
“I knew that it was going to be good,” she said of her energy savings. “I was shocked it was going to be that good.”
Since installing the panels in July, Wyatt has received two bills from Pacific Power, which uses a special meter installed on the side of her house to monitor power production.
There are 26 homes in Pendleton set up for net metering; in May, 50 people received no-interest loans as part of the Solarize Pendleton program.
“(Net metering) measures the power you put into the grid and take off the grid,” said Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt. “In a place like Pendleton, over the summer, you might come quite a bit ahead.”
From July 20 to Aug. 20, Wyatt’s bill was $38.22 and she used 377 kilowatt hours and contributed 175 kilowatt hours thanks to her solar system for a net total of 202. She used 602 kilowatts in Aug. 2009.
The story is similar for Dave and Annette Frye, who own the second house to get solar panels after taking advantage of the Solarize Pendleton program. The Fryes paid about $20,000 for their system, and with all the incentives and savings, it should pay for itself within eight years.
“They billed it as a 25 to 30 percent savings per month and so far it's panned out. It's $30-35 a month free,” Dave Frye said. “My wife is much greener than me. She really liked the green part of it. It was the energy savings and the cost savings. It was just a good deal.”
But those who are really concerned with helping the planet need to do more than just install solar panels, Wyatt said.
“This isn’t all of it. You’ve got to use plain old common sense like turning off the lights,” she said. “Conservation is where it’s at, whether you’re driving your car or leaving the water on when you brush your teeth.”
Ken Abbott is a Pendleton resident who took advantage of incentives to solarize his home.
Like others who have installed solar panels at their homes, Abbott said he has seen big savings on his power bills, calling the results “really good.”
“Studying online, as an example, the homes that they are building in New Orleans after Katrina, the majority of the homes have solar cells on the roof,” Abbott said. “If you listen to the talk around, (such as) science fiction, solar is the way to go. It's the wave of the future.”
Abott said that having a solar system has increased his awareness of energy issues around his household.
“It has brought about an awareness to kind of watch what you turn on. You kind of walk around and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need that on?’” he said. “The clothes dryer, we hardly ever use the clothes dryer anymore. We hang our clothes and let the sun dry our clothes as well.”