Editor's Note: This is part of a series. Click here for more articles about the National Solar Tour, and look for updates each Tuesday.
Of the 30,000 people who live in Phoenix's Sun City West retirement community, there are two senior citizens who have a particular affection for the sun -- even the scorching, 107-degree heat it brings to Arizona's dog days of summer.
Apparently, the affection is reciprocal. Through photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies, the sun is bringing the eighty-something couple noteworthy financial and social rewards.
The celebrated early-adopter octogenarians -- Newt and Inez Stevens -- moved to Phoenix from Alamosa, Colorado this past November to provide Inez (who at one point needed forced oxygen to help her breathe) with a lower elevation and a more temperate climate.
Today, Inez, a former nurse, is breathing easier. She and Newt, her husband of 55 years, are surrounded by family, beautiful vistas, golf courses and hundreds of active, engaging seniors. They are living large.
But their living expenses -- even with today's runaway energy costs -- are small.
Their remedy is simple: they've put the Arizona sun to work for them, and are harnessing its might in three ways:
Ed Bustya / WindWriter.com
It brings them an enviable sense of energy independence, which they plan to openly share with neighbors during the non-profit American Solar Energy Society's (ASES) National Solar Tour this October.
The National Solar Tour coordinates open houses among solar homeowners, schools, businesses and public agencies to educate people about the solar technologies they are using to drastically reduce their monthly energy bills while improving property values. Last year, the National Solar Tour attracted 115,000 people in 46 states. It is the largest solar event in the history of the United States.
"For us, solar was a practical solution," said Newt, an 85-year-old retired welder. "Our primary motivation was economic," he said. The Stevens can run their air conditioner as much as they need to stay comfortable in the sweltering Arizona heat, without it costing them money or polluting the environment. "And if we produce more than we use, the power company will pay us the difference. We're seeing a better return on our investment than anything I can get at the banks or stock market. I'm tickled to death with it," he said. It also provides them with a secure, alternative source of energy in event of a power outage.
The Stevens' savvy solar strategies are further manifested in their primary mode of transportation: an electric, street-legal golf cart, replete with solar-paneled canopy.
"The solar vehicle is really nice. All it needs to do is sit in the sun for an hour a day and it's ready to go. It never has to be plugged in. And it generates electricity each time we use it. My gas vehicle for the most part sits idle, taking up space. There's no need to use it much (or go to the gas station) anymore," he added.
Pain at the pump is a thing of the past.
So just how significant are the Stevens' solar savings? With the help of their son Randy, they will recoup more than 50% the cost of their photovoltaic system this year -- $12,000 -- in the form of federal and state tax credits, and a healthy state power company rebate. Additionally, ongoing annual electricity savings will be around $865, a notable amount for seniors living on fixed incomes. Their solar water heating system will reduce their water bill by about 90%.
And then there are the social benefits. "We've had all kinds of folks stopping by to take a look and ask questions," says Newt. "Some come buzzing over in their gas-powered carts asking about solar. People love the concept. Yes, we've converted some folks -- they're snapping them up!"
Son Randy, principal of SolarGreenCompany.com, concurs. "My parents can't go out in their solar electric vehicle without being stopped," he said. "My dad will play a full 36 holes of golf in a day, run that cart all over the place trying to exhaust its power capacity, but he can't do it, as much as he tries!" No exhaust here, literally or figuratively.
Randy also lauds the people who run Sun City West for their foresightedness in embracing solar and encouraging it among their residents.
The bottom line for these early-adopters?
"It's gratifying and rewarding to establish a real-life example of how we can do something to help ourselves while also helping the environment," said Newt. "And it's not such a bad way to get to know the neighbors," he grinned.
The Steven's home -- and their solar canopied electric golf cart -- will be featured in the non-profit American Solar Energy Society's 13th Annual National Solar Tour on October 4, 2008. Learn about tours across the nation -- and the many tax incentives and cash rebates available for going solar at www.nationalsolartour.org.
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