InFocus: Charlotte — Charlotte homeowners embrace clean energy

Two same-sex couples among first in Solarize Charlotte project

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A new grassroots, clean-energy project aims to make it easier for local homeowners to capitalize on green energy and lessen their dependence on fossil fuels. Two same-sex couples are among some of the first homeowners in Charlotte to take advantage of the new Solarize Charlotte initiative.

Kim and Joselle Anthony and Scott Lindsley and Joey Hewell are placing several solar panels on their homes — reducing their power bill by using solar energy and giving back to the electric grid.

The new non-profit program, which ran for three months this summer, assisted homeowners with bulk purchasing discounts, free analyses of their needs and assistance with obtaining state and federal tax credits — up to 65 percent of the cost of the panels.

The Anthonys, who live near Steele Creek and Lake Wylie, have already had 18 solar panels installed on their home.

“It sounded like a huge number to me,” says Kim. “Our house is not that big; it’s a very modest home. I was surprised we could have 18 and we can actually have more than 18 with our current arrangement.”

The new solar panels have come a long way from the days of big and bulky panels of the past. Lindsley, who works in real estate, says the panels — soon to be installed on his and his partners’ home — will be an investment.

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“I remember some people getting solar panels in the 1980s when I was a teenager,” Lindsley recounts. “They were huge. They took over the top of the house. It’s like comparing the DirectTV dishes today to the huge satellites 20 years ago. The aesthetic appeal was lacking back then. These aren’t very intrusive and they’re pretty simple panels.”

Future buyers, Lindsley said, will find the panels and the costs they save in power bills worthy of attention. He thinks showing potential buyers two similar homes at similar prices with one of the two having a power bill in the $30-$40 range will be an attractive selling point.

Kim and her wife have had their panels for less than a month. They’ve yet to get hard data on how much power they’re saving or the money they’ll save, but they estimate the panels will cover 55 percent of their power usage — saving as much as $1,000 a year over the next 25 years.

The installation for the Anthonys cost about $15,000. They’ll get 65 percent of that back through state and federal tax credits. The savings through the lifepan of the panels will result in a net gain.

Lindsley and Hewell will spend a similar amount for their panels. They’re also getting an on-demand water heating system. The two investments combined are expected to save the couple 60-70 percent on their power bill.

Though cost-savings is a motivating factor, the two couples say they have the environment in mind, too.

“I think we both are socially responsible for a lot of things, whether its conservation or animal issues,” says Lindsley. “Being able to generate power and not have to use fossil fuels is something we’d love to be a part of. It’s just the social responsibility angle of it, bolstered by the fact we can save a lot of money, too. It will take years to pay itself back, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have that as an extra bonus.”

Kim says she and her wife — who both took off seven months to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2008 — feel strongly about the environment, too. Even if it didn’t save money, Kim says she and Joselle would have still made the decision.

“There’s more to the bottom line than simply the cost,” she says.

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Kim had a career change in the past few years after earning a degree in urban environmental leadership. She learned a lot about sustainability in her courses and wanted to put those lessons to practice in her own home.

“I became keenly aware of climate change and very concerned about such a big problem and how as an individual I could have an impact on something so huge,” Kim says. “I think Solarize Charlotte is one way that we’ve found we can have an impact on our own footprint. But, also, it sends a message to our community about what is important to us. It sends a message to Duke Energy, to our local politicians, to our neighbors and friends. It’s kind of just walk the talk.”

The two homeowners say they were surprised how simple and easy it was working with Solarize Charlotte and they’d encourage other couples to look or similar options.

“I’d definitely encourage it,” says Lindsley. “If everybody did it and generated just a little bit, it would have a huge impact.”

Kim believes local projects like Solarize Charlotte are part of a growing trend toward cleaner energy.

“We see a lot of renewable energy being adopted in many parts of our own country,” says Kim, pointing to wind energy developments in other states.

For now, the Solarize Charlotte project was a limited-time opportunity, but similar programs exist elsewhere. The first Solarize project began in 2009 in Oregon. Similar programs have been instituted in Durham, Asheville and Carrboro. Clean Energy for Us will launch soon in Raleigh, and Cleaner is Cheaper’s installer, RED Group, will continue offering its services in Charlotte.

“The success of the program is indicative of the demand for solar, which is increasing both nationally and on the state level particularly in North Carolina,” says Hanna Mitchell, the solar project assistant for Greenpeace, one of the Cleaner is Cheaper Coalition’s partners. “The solar project [in Charlotte] just ended, but we’re seeing lots of other programs pop up.”

For more information on the project and to see photos, video clips and more, visit cleanerischeaper.com. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.