By Michelle Knox, President, WindSolarUSA, Inc.
The 2017 Illinois Solar Energy Association Solar Tour was held across the state on Saturday, October 7. Of the 135 sites featured statewide, the Springfield area boasted the most registered sites of any community with a total of 26 solar owners inviting others to learn about solar from their experiences. In addition to the traditional self-directed tour, there were several additional options for participation afforded by The Springfield Bicycle Club via a morning bicycle loop starting at Southwind Park’s Solar Sunflower and traveling to six solar sites followed by an afternoon loop that would have covered four Sherman sites which were new to the tour, that unfortunately had limited participation due to rain. Tour leaders, solar system owners and Springfield Bicycle Club members, Harv Koplo and Joel Johnson, volunteered their time for the day to offer interested cyclists an opportunity to see solar in a different way. It should also be noted that Joel Johnson, who was featured in Springfield Scene Magazine’s last issue article on solar, is receiving an award from Sustainable Springfield, Inc., for his commitment to alternative energy/energy conservation practices, during the organization’s awards ceremony that is being held of November 8th. Bob Croteau, a solar enthusiast from the early ‘70s, and community activist for the development of solar and energy efficiency through his work at CWLP’s Energy Services office, kicked off the southern bicycle loop with an informative presentation on how the Solar Sunflower serves as both a form of art and functional sundial. Croteau and his daughter’s vision from over 10 years ago came to fruition when Rotary South chose the project as a feature of their organization’s 100-year anniversary. His home site, located just a few miles from the kickoff point, was another stopping point for cyclists as Croteau shared his “museum of solar history” with his guests. When asked why he chose to add solar power to his home back in 2012, Croteau said, “To me the most important reason to go solar was the environmental benefits. Clean solar electricity is where we need to get to as a world society because it is the only readily available energy resource to everyone that is renewable and doesn’t damage the Earth to produce it.” He first became interested in solar power back in the 1970s. “I am still a part of the ‘60s environmental revolution. After the Oil Embargo of 1973 that put a stranglehold on our ability to even move around, I began looking for a means to energy independence. I read Wilson Clark’s 1975 book, ‘Energy for Survival; the Alternative to Extinction’, which surveyed all the renewable energy alternatives to polluting coal and dangerous nuclear options. I was convinced that solar was the one alternative available to everyone whether it was a solar house, hot water or electricity.” Aesthetically, solar has improved significantly since those early times. “To- day’s solar is sleek and monolithic, not like the gadgety solar of the early 1980s that gave the public a bad aesthetic impression. Good solar from those times blended in and is still doing its job like passive solar homes. I have not received any negative comments from my neighbors, in fact they view it as a progressive feature, enhancing their neighborhood. Many, on their daily walks, stop and ask questions about it. It makes a great conversation piece and has even helped me get to know more of my neighbors. You don’t save anything by waiting (to go solar), only lost opportunity.” Another fun opportunity of this year’s tour was a VIP Obed & Isaacs Van Tour hosted by WindSolarUSA. Many thanks to the Conn family for allowing use of the van for a different approach to the Solar Tour. Those aboard the van were treated to snacks and locally brewed adult beverages while they learned about solar with commentary in be- tween sites and an open and engaging Q&A atmosphere. One of the ten stops on this tour opportunity was the home of Ric Thompson and Luz Lopez who installed their 7.695kW system in May of 2016 utilizing south and west slopes of their home that they designed to house solar panels when it was built ten years ago. Their interest in solar started back in the 1980s, “but the costs at the time were enormous, the paybacks distant, and expense beyond our budget to even consider it. We built our current house together with our friends and a few subcontractors about 10 years ago. Our house is located on a corner lot by choice. When we designed our house, the corner lot allowed us to move the garage to the rear of the house with a breezeway in between. This configuration gave us an “L-shaped” house with an expanse of south facing roof line, perfect for a solar installation. This was part of our plan. We now wish we hadn’t waited so long to finish it.” This was the Thompsons’ second year on the tour and they hosted approximately ten guests. “Last year we had many more visitors during the tour than this year. The unfavorable weather this year had a definite negative impact on attendance. However, there is a great deal of interest in our home because we have both the solar installation and a geothermal energy system. Add to that we also have a natural gas whole-house generator backup system and there are a lot of systems to ask about.” As far as advice- to others that may be considering a solar option, they offer, “Don’t put it off. Contact a few reputable solar installers to discuss your options, costs, projected payback, etc. When you gather the facts and consider your options, we think you’ll see it’s something you must pursue. Don’t miss out on the current tax incentives which are awesome. We also recommend that you choose a solar product that is American made over a foreign import. We need to support a robust American solar manufacturing sector to reduce our reliance on foreign sources and promote American employment. ‘Go Solar!’ Call a solar installer today to get the facts; don’t put it off. You won’t regret it. You’ll be surprised at just how feasible it can be for you and your family.”