Permission to Operate

Just before we took off for France last June, we played host to an organization that was promoting solar power for private homes in our area. I have two friends who were members of the group.  One, a retired engineering professor, had long experience with solar power; the other, a biology professor, had already installed a system in his home and was an active member of this group. I had talked with both about it, because I had received an offer from a private company that would install a system but retain ownership of the equipment, selling me power at a fixed rate likely below what the power company would offer. What about this? I asked my engineer. His answer – they are making more money out of this than you. He went over the economics with me, and I became convinced that it made sense to actually buy a system. So, at the suggestion of my biologist, on that June day my wife and I posed on the back lawn for a story for the local paper, which would promote the cause of solar power in our community.

Our vacation lasted three weeks, and so we did not actually get the ball rolling with the contractors until July. Over the course of the next several months, the project proceeded at a glacial pace, it seemed to me. There were weeks when I would hear of no progress; occasionally somebody would show up for a crucial piece of design work, and then nothing would happen. In November, finally, a crew came to install a new net meter that could handle a new parallel source of power to the house. A week or two later some people came to install posts in the ground to hold the ground unit. It was not until early January that the crew arrived to lay the cables, install the 16 ground panels and 5 roof panels. Even then it was not ready to go. We had to wait for the power company to send an inspector and then issue the Permission to Operate. That just arrived a couple of days ago, and today we finally turned on the system. We were in the middle of about 60 households who had signed up for the contract that had been negotiated by the group.

Harry Cleaning Snow of the Solar Panels

Problem: the panels were covered in snow. Fortunately, my contractor informed me, I could buy a snow-raker from an auto parts store or car dealer and without damaging the ground panels scrape the snow off. This entailed a fair amount of work, because I had to dig a path through deep snow to even get to the unit. I also had to buy a long extender from the paint department at Home Depot so that the scraper could reach the top panels. After a fair amount of effort I had removed the snow by midafternoon. By the end of the day the system had collected 3 KWH of solar electricity. I feel as I did when I got paid my first dollar.

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