By Vanessa Broadbent
When Rusty Rawlyk switched to solar energy, it was mainly just to reduce her household’s carbon footprint. She didn’t anticipate that it would also cut her electricity bill by 50 per cent.
Currently, her house has 20 photovoltaic panels; she started with eight in 2015, added another eight the next spring and then won four panels.
“We’re very happy,” she told a standing-room-only crowd at the Sonora Centre on Thursday evening.
“It’s worth it, even if you don’t cover your whole roof (with panels) and all your costs. You lessen your carbon footprint and you’re saving money.”
The crowd was gathered for Solar Electricity 101, an information session hosted by Swiss Solar Tech Ltd. of Summerland.
Along with solar technician and company owner Roger Huber, Rawlyk was one of four locals who shared their experiences going solar.
Jim Wyse, owner of Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver talked about the estate’s switch to solar energy, which started in 2006.
Now, over a decade later, the winery has installed 596 panels which produce 264,000 kilowatt hours annually and offset 134.3 tons of carbon emissions.
This includes 160 panels on the winery’s warehouse, 116 panels on their staff house in Osoyoos, 38 hot water panels, 104 panels Wyse’s family personally installed and 108 panels installed on a new parking shelter.
Wyse says he’s satisfied with his system – the biggest installed at a business in the Okanagan.
“If I broke even I would feel that’s a good investment, but the matter is you don’t break even, you make it back.”
For Dr. Robert Calder of Osoyoos, there wasn’t much hesitation to switch to solar energy, but he’s taking it one step further and only driving electric as well.
“I take the power from my house, off my roof, and use it to drive to work,” he explained. “That’s a revolution.”
Dr. Calder, who currently has 35 panels, thinks it won’t be long until everyone is relying on the sun for their energy.
“There’s a revolution happening in the world and it’s really exciting,” he said. “I’m excited about what I’m doing and I think it’s a great idea.”
As a result of this “revolution” solar power has become much more affordable over the years. Huber explained that an average sized system of 28 panels with an output of about 9,200 kWh per year used to be priced at $29,000 but is now $17,3000. And that happened in four years.
At this price, Huber said it takes between 9-12 years for the system to pay for itself, depending on the home’s location and how much sunlight it gets.
Paul McCavour, who had Huber install his solar system four years ago, started looking for alternatives to using Fortis’ energy after adding up his electricity bills for the year in 2013. They totaled $3,140.11.
“It shocked me,” he said.
“I went around the house and tried to energy-proof it, but it didn’t make a lot of difference in our bill. I knew it was going to take a drastic measure to make something happen.”
McCavour said he thought about whether he wanted to rent energy from Fortis or produce his own.
The first option came with no payback, but the second was an investment. This was confirmed when his neighbour was able to sell his home for an additional $30,000 because of its solar energy system.
“That proved to me I was on the right track.”
He now pays between $40 and $60 in electricity bills for the entire year.
Now McCavour considers himself a solar advocate. He loves sharing his story and helping people make their own transition to solar energy.
Based on his own experience (having 24 panels installed in the wrong place by someone he found in the phonebook), he had advice to share.
“Be careful and ask lots of questions.”
With the right installation, McCavour said you can’t go wrong by relying on sunshine, especially in an area where it’s in abundance for most of the year.
“When you go in partnership with the sun, you’ve got a pretty good ally,” he shared. “The sun has been here for four and a half billion years, and it hasn’t raised its rates.”