Here comes the sun ... and savings

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Powell area homeowner sees benefits of solar energy

As Powellites welcome sunny days after a long winter, the golden rays are an especially welcome sight for Gerry Johns. After installing solar panels at his home last year, sunny days don’t just signal springtime — they bring cost savings, too.

Johns built a grid-tie system with 21 solar panels to provide electricity for his home in the Powell area.

“I look at it as an investment,” he said. “As soon as the system’s paid off, then it’s all free.”

Johns’ solar panels started drawing energy for his home on June 18. Since then, the solar array has provided all the power Johns has needed.

“You have to pay the reading fee, the basic charge, but that’s nothing compared to what you spend on power,” he said.

The panels harness more energy than Johns uses, so extra power is banked. Garland Light & Power uses the power for its other customers, but the electricity is banked in Johns’ name.

“What I don’t use goes on down the line to the next houses,” he said.

At the end of the year, Garland Light & Power pays Johns for the remaining excess power.

“Then you start over,” he said.

Since January, Johns has banked nearly 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

His solar array features 21 panels, and each panel can output 250 watts. The entire system can generate up to 5,250 watts.

Even on cloudy days, the system still collects energy for Johns’ home.

Johns worked with Andy Rose, owner of HI-Q Technology in Powell, to set up the system. He purchased the German-made solar panels through Hi-Q Technology, and Rose helped him determine the best angle and location for the solar array.

The panels face south at around a 40-degree angle.

“This should be real close to the optimum angle for the most production in the summer and winter,” Johns said.

With sunny days throughout the year, Wyoming is a good place for solar energy.

“In the wintertime, the panels will actually perform better in cooler temperatures,” Rose said.

An online account allows Johns to easily track how much electricity his panels are generating each day.

“I can sit here in the house and watch it,” he said.

With online graphs, he can see the amount of energy rise and fall throughout the day.

“It’s interesting to watch as the sun moves across the sky,” he said.

Johns built a roughly 40-foot wooden rack for the solar panels at his home.

“I enjoyed putting it together,” he said.

The panels feed into an inverter that is connected to the house. There also are two disconnect switches that are required by Garland Light & Power and the state. The company can turn it off so that electricity isn’t going on the grid when they have a lineman working on a power line. The system will automatically disconnect itself electronically, but this switch gives the option to manually disconnect.

The system had to be inspected by the state and Garland Light & Power, and meet certain requirements, such as safety switches.

“Everything’s got to be grounded so no one walks up and touches it and gets shocked,” he said.

Johns also had to get a new meter.

Other than tripping one time, the system hasn’t had any issues.

“You just monitor it in case something goes wrong,” Johns said.

While there’s an initial cost investment to build the grid-tie system, there’s very little

maintenance required afterward.

“When it snows, you’ve got to go out and clean the panels off,” he said.

Johns uses a broom to clear snow from the panels. During warmer months, he uses a water hose to clean dirt that collects.

“Since I live so close to a dirt road, once in a while I have to go and wash it off,” he said.

An eco-friendly investment

This is Johns’ second solar array. He also set one up at his cabin in the mountains, and that system has a battery bank.

“The high expense of putting power to the cabin is what got me started on it,” he said.

Johns sees solar as an investment that makes sense financially and environmentally.

“It’s eco-friendly,” he said.

Since the solar array at his Powell area home provides more electricity than he can use, Johns sees a return on his investment when Garland Light & Power pays him for his power.

“I’m making 12 cents a kilowatt-hour trading Garland Light & Power,” he said.

At the end of the year, the company pays 5 cents per kilowatt-hour on Johns’ remaining banked power.

Those returns are better than what he’d get if the money was sitting in a savings account, Johns said.

Since the first of the year, his banked electricity has amounted to about $258.

The system generated $1.96 on a cloudy day in April.

“It doesn’t seem like much until you add it up for 30 days,” he said.

Plus, those returns are combined with savings on his electric bill, making the investment in solar worth it, Johns said.

“To me, the dollars and cents — they’re there,” Johns said. “I’d rather use my money to buy my grandkids stuff and buy my kids stuff than pay it out when I don’t have to.”

When the electric company increases rates, Johns doesn’t have to worry about it, because “your solar is paying that bill for you.”

Johns also has seen his gas bill decrease since he started using solar energy. Last fall and winter, he used electric heaters to help heat his home, drawing from the banked electricity he had saved up.

“Using these [electric heaters] … burning up all of my banked hours, I don’t pay for gas,” Johns said. “It’s not just electricity. You’re saving on your gas bills, too.”

The solar panels will continue to produce well for about 20 years, he said.

“It’s an investment that will last quite a few years,” he said.

Unlike a wind turbine, you can build a solar array piece by piece as you have the money available, Johns said.

“For solar, you can start with one panel and build up,” he said. “With wind, you’ve got to buy a certain amount [of equipment] at one time.”

You don’t have to buy everything at once and can continue adding to the array, he said.

“Anybody can do a panel here, a panel there,” he said.

If you’re considering a solar array for your home, make sure you have a good south-facing area for it.

“I don’t care if you put a grid-tie up or a battery bank up, you’ve still got to face the south,” Johns said.

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