Some years back, a neighbor down the street got solar panels on her house.
I don't know her, but I admire everything she does. She painted the trim on her red-brick ranch a pretty blue right after she and her young daughter moved in, and soon after, she spent days digging giant holes for the three mesquites she planted in the bare front yard—trees that are towering monsters today. There's a swing on her front porch, a little flower garden in the alley behind her house, and a treehouse in the biggest mesquite. So when the little Technicians for Sustainability sign (tfssolar.com) appeared in her yard—"I get my power from the sun"—I wasn't surprised.
The clock was ticking: If she could do it, I could. And should. I worry about global warming incessantly and hate the oil companies transcendently. (My ultimate goal is to have an electric car that I can plug in at my solar-powered house. I dream of never buying gas again.) And, oh yeah, I own a south-facing roof in one of the world's sunnier cities—what could be more obvious than solar?
The thing, of course, was the money.
You can get solar on your roof in one of two ways: Buy it, or lease it. Leasing is a lot more doable, but Ed and I like to avoid anything resembling debt. I also happen to think it's wrong that the government gives businesses a better break on taxes than it gives individuals, which is what makes the leasing business possible. (They get to take depreciation on the equipment; you and I don't.) So I decided to buy, looked at the Tucson Electric Power paperwork, and moaned. And started saving.
It took years. Actually, I had enough after a couple of years of squirreling away a good part of my take-home, but I then discovered I'd developed the typical vice of middle age: counting my money. This was the only big chunk, all my own, that I'd ever had, and I began to love it, and to love playing with it, dipping in and out of the stock market. It turned out to be a bit hard to let go of. (Sin is like that.)
Then last year, Ed, who's at home a lot more than I am, finally got terminally fed up with the swamp cooler, and I stopped fighting the idea of getting air conditioning (after more than 40 years in SoAz, I have the physiology of a lizard), but even with the house cold as a motel all summer, and our electric bills more than doubled, the guilt wasn't stronger than the greed.
What finally tipped me over the edge a few months back was driving past the beautiful Benedictine Sanctuary on Country Club Road, and noticing the massive panel array the nuns had installed in the parking lot. Covered parking and clean electricity in one fell swoop! Genius. If the nuns could do it ...
So I unpried my fingers from my cash and finally called Technicians for Sustainability. Result: I now have a solar water heater and 14 panels on my roof, with another six to come once the electric-car thing becomes feasible.
I cannot say too much good about TFS. Every single person we had contact with there was fantastic. (They hack through the bureaucracy for you, by the way.) A couple of weeks ago, for example, the water heater wasn't working after the final city inspection. Mike the Water Heater Guy stopped by on a Saturday because he was worried about it, and thought it might be because the inspector had thrown the second breaker, one we didn't know about. It was. It was also Mike's day off. They're all like him.
Our electric bill for September was $28 (fees, mostly), so I'm already getting a tidy return on my money. And it turns out that watching the electricity pouring back and forth between our roof and TEP is almost as fun as checking on stocks. Who knew?
By the way: If you're looking for wonderful writing by somebody with a far-more-interesting life than mine, please visit the gorgeous new blog of my friend Heidi Vanderbilt, who writes and takes beautiful photos when she's not taking care of horses and dogs on the other side of the Rincons. As a bonus, she throws in the occasional painting by her husband, the amazing Bernard Fierro: heidivanderbilt.wordpress.com