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Country sunshine inspires turn to suburban solar

Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, lines up a solar panel on the roof of Brian Bennett's home in Edmond. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, lines up a solar panel on the roof of Brian Bennett's home in Edmond. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]

EDMOND — People living out in the country are early adopters of sun power — just ask J.W. Peters and Kevin Jones, who sell solar systems from their headquarters in Oklahoma City, and Brian Bennett, of Edmond, who bought one after seeing his dad's cattle getting water from solar-powered wells out between Canton and Seiling.

The small solar panels at Calvin Bennett's water wells put big ideas in his son's head. Brian Bennett already had made his home more energy efficient, dropping his monthly electric bill to about $120 or $130 per month, for a nearly 20-year-old home of just less than 2,000 square feet.

With his dad's sun-dappled cattle in mind, he started calling around. It didn't take long for him to find Oklahoma City-based Solar Power of Oklahoma, where Peters is president.

Bennett, 47, who is in sales, would not be unduly swayed by a salesman. He asked Peters to come to his house, but not to expect a quick sale, if one at all.

Before long, Peters was at his kitchen table, and they were discussing the pros and cons of a solar system, which would produce about 80 percent of the power he needed — short-term points like the 30% federal tax credit set to drop to 26% at the end of this year, and longer-term issues like the rising cost of electricity. Peters said it's jumped 3.4% per year on average the past decade.

That was a year ago or so. As it turned out, Solar Power of Oklahoma couldn't have sold Bennett its kind of system then in any case because of restrictions on the city-owned utility, Edmond Electric. Peters said he was working with the city to open the door to customer-owned distributed generation systems, and the city was working with the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.

Edmond Electric buys power wholesale from the authority and sells it to its 39,000-some customers. The power authority would let Edmond get up to 1% of its electricity from alternative sources.

The city's first plan "wasn't very good for the customer," Peters said, because of the way customers would be credited for excess power they generated that went onto the grid. But in October, the Edmond City Council approved a better interconnection agreement, clearing the way for customer-owned systems.

The door was open a crack. People at the council meeting wanted more. Andrea Sampley said the 1% limit should be increased. Laura Pollard said the city should encourage residents to explore alternative energy and put pressure on the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority to use more renewable energy and be more flexible with alternatives.

“While a step in the right direction, this is extremely limiting," Peters said at the time. "There is only room for 215 solar customers in all of Edmond under this agreement. Now there is actual urgency. If Edmond residents want solar they need to understand that space is limited.”

Savings vary

Bennett was among the people in Edmond that Solar Power of Oklahoma had been working with in anticipation of the change. He jumped. He said it was a no-brainer.

He said the system he bought cost $18,000. The 30% tax credit cut that to about $12,600. He said he financed that for 15 years to get a monthly payment of $87, less than his monthly electric bill, which will be cut drastically, for a total power bill less that he is now paying (the city has not yet signed off on his system so it's not in use yet).

Savings vary, Peters said, but everyone who goes solar this way avoids the upcoming 3.4% average annual increases, which is what really sold Bennett.

"If you have a $200-per-month electric bill, your electric bill in 30 years is going to be $554 per month, with a total spend of $125,000 for electricity," Peters said. "What we show our customers is another way. Why don't you put these solar panels on your roof? They'll produce 80 percent of your power. You'll still be connected to the grid. You'll still have power if your system stops working, or if it's super shady one day. For the most part, they're all in: 'We love it.'"

Peters said the average residential system installed by Solar Power of Oklahoma, 7801 N Robinson Ave., Suite J-8, costs $25,000. Most customers finance the expense at 3.99% interest on a 20-year fixed note.

But he said no two situations are the same.

"Everybody's consumption is different," Peters said. "You might have two homes that were built at the exact same time, the exact same floor plan, in the exact same neighborhood by the same builder, but you've got a nice 85-year-old lady over here that lives by herself that keeps (the temperature) at 85, and a family of six over here that's got TVs and Game Boys and all kinds of stuff, well, their consumption is going to be drastically different.

"So we look at somebody's consumption, and then we figure out the size of the system that they need to get ... to provide 80% of that power for that customer. There's a lot of factors that go into that. The size of the system is one. But how much that system is going to produce is another. Is it facing south? Is it facing west? Is it at a 30-degree angle? Is it at an 8-degree angle? All those factors play in to what it's going to produce."

Jones said Solar Power of Oklahoma has sold and installed more than 500 solar systems the past two years. He and Peters, co-owner, decided to form the company after working for several others as an installation subcontractor.

He said it has not necessarily been an easy sell — although it's been easier in rural areas, where people are used to having to innovate. See cows at Canton above.

"The biggest challenge in Oklahoma has been providing proof of concept," Jones said. "It's probably taken us a year and a half to obtain, produce and start being able to deliver to the public the proof of concept. People here don't care about what California's doing. They want the next-door neighbor, across the street, somebody that's actually doing it. They want to look at it, feel it, touch it, see it. They want to see that it's doing what you're telling them it's going to do."

Related Photos
<strong>Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, unloads a solar panel. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]</strong>

Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, unloads a solar panel. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8ebdc5a05e6626d152a6873463795206.jpg" alt="Photo - Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, unloads a solar panel. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, unloads a solar panel. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, unloads a solar panel. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-868d82d0384fbfd2a1be5d2297308eb4.jpg" alt="Photo - Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, carries a solar panel to the side of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, carries a solar panel to the side of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Alex Lopez, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, carries a solar panel to the side of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-896a1a9165e4a31e6c634284d4bbde34.jpg" alt="Photo - Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, ties off wiring on brackets that will hold solar panels on the roof of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, ties off wiring on brackets that will hold solar panels on the roof of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, ties off wiring on brackets that will hold solar panels on the roof of Brian Bennett's home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b4fa08056dc0a402ad4166f526b70200.jpg" alt="Photo - Alex Lopez and Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, install solar panels on an Edmond home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Alex Lopez and Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, install solar panels on an Edmond home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Alex Lopez and Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, install solar panels on an Edmond home. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-afca5aa982f183e318b46f868edd4a1d.jpg" alt="Photo - Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, lines up a solar panel on the roof of Brian Bennett's home in Edmond. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, lines up a solar panel on the roof of Brian Bennett's home in Edmond. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Jeremy Rains, with Solar Power of Oklahoma, lines up a solar panel on the roof of Brian Bennett's home in Edmond. [BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure>
Richard Mize

Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked... Read more ›

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