Despite the Pacific Northwest not seeing as many sunny days as Southern California each year, more and more people in this area are finding that there is enough sunlight here to warrant fitting their homes with solar power.
As a way of demonstrating this possibility, farm owner John Oglevie opened his home to tours on Oct. 5, as part of the National Solar Tour.
The Tour is organized by American Solar Energy Society and Solar United Neighbors.
Oglevie voluntarily opened his property for those who wanted to see it.
“My goal is to try to educate and encourage people to install solar systems by showing them my system, then show them information on how it has performed for me over the past two years,” he said.
Oglevie owns a 20 kilowatt system with 60 panels, which he installed in late 2017. The panels are attached to a fixed structure on the south side of his apple farm, taking up just a small section of his land.
With 40 years experience as an electrical engineer designing power systems, Oglevie said he believes going solar was the right choice, as the time and market is right for such.
“The reason I went into it is because I was looking at clean energy options … and I had the space and the opportunity.”
Most months, Oglevie says his system generates enough power to bring his bill down to just a $5 connection fee. He does have to buy some power for cooling his house in the summer, but that doesn’t bother him.
Oglevie says his system generates enough power so that he rarely has to buy any from Idaho Power.
“I generate more than I need throughout the year,” he said, explaining that for the most part it’s enough that all he has to pay is the $5 connection fee.
“Some days it’s only 10 percent, but it’s positive,” he said of the energy he generates, explaining the more he generates the less he has to buy.
Oglevie further explained that while the solar power he generates is only available during the day, his system generates such an excess amount that he gets credit for it from Idaho Power and does not end up paying for using the grid at night.
The debit and credit system is an annual cycle that matches Idaho Power’s fiscal year, he said.
“They supply all the power I need, plus more. So it’s good for the grid,” he said.
Despite the prospective independence solar can bring, Oglevie said he installed his system to merely supplement what the grid provides. This coupled with the cost of maintaining batteries is why Oglevie doesn’t keep any batteries.
“I’m a firm believer in the grid, not independence from it. Because if my system fails, I’d need a backup source to keep my farm going; Even my neighbor has about twenty-five to thirty kilowatts, so if my system fails there’s no way for them to help me without that grid.”
Even on cloudy days, Oglevie pointed out that his system is still able to produce electricity because his panels are able to use ordinary light as well as ultraviolet rays.
“It produces about eighty percent of its capacity in winter,” says Oglevie.
Of all our essential services, Oglevie says electricity is the most important one.
“Our economy and our way of life will collapse if we don’t have it.”
As the majority of people don’t have access to alternative energy, the grid is still essential.
Weather isn’t so much of a factor, Oglevie says, adding that his solar system will almost invariably produce power regardless of the type of day — even if its rainy.
“Snow slides off," says Oglevie. "My biggest problem is the birds come in and sit on the top of it, but we get enough rain to wash [it] off. Occasionally I’ll come down and wash them myself.”
As long as there is light, they system will generate energy.
When it comes to initial investment, Oglevie reminds readers that many sorts of panel layouts and financing schemes exist to help homeowners go solar.
“What they really need to do is get an estimate, based on their individual situation,” he said.
An opportunity to get more information is coming to Weiser on Oct. 22 when a forum will be held featuring experts on solar energy.
It will include information about all things solar, including what role Idaho Power plays, what the typical cost and sizes are, return on investments, grants and other information.
The forum is sponsored by the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, which seeks to advocate for responsible stewardship of Idaho’s natural resources, and the Weiser River Resource Council, a group of concerned citizens dedicated to the preservation of rural communities, family farms and ranches, safe and sustainable food systems.
The purpose of the presentation, he says, is to inform so that people can make the decision whether solaris right for them.
Leslie Thompson contributed to this article.