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December 09, 2003: A different shade of green

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I nearly threw the envelope away, but then I realized what it was and opened it. Inside, a one page certificate. Our house has been approved for the state rebate. We have nine months in which to install our solar panels and qualify.

Oh yes. The solar panels. Oops.

Back in October, we had someone come out and evaluate our house for solar panels. We got our estimate and then we were told we would have to wait a few months to find out if we qualified for the state rebate (which, frankly, isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things). This meant, of course, that I had time to think about this. And think. And think.

The problem is that our energy bills are already extremely low. Because of the raised foundation, lots of good insulation, and the decision to splurge for the more efficient HVAC system, as well as watching the thermostat year round, we already use far less energy for most houses this size. On the plus side that meant we didn't need too many panels; on the negative side it meant that it was going to take us nearly 20 years to see any kind of financial benefit. And yes, there is the environmental benefit as well, but that's a long time to be waiting for something you've spent so much money on.

Making this whole thing even more complicated was the fact that with Richard's car nearly paid off, we're looking at replacing mine and we'd already decided, back when we first heard about the Prius, that we were going to get a hybrid. In fact, ever since we got the chance to test drive one for the day, we knew what our next car had to be.

On a whim, a week or two ago, Richard called around to all the Toyota dealers in the surrounding few counties, and to our surprise, the Fairfield dealership had one in stock that we could look at if we could hightail it down there ASAP. So we went. We didn't get to test drive it because it had, technically, already been sold, but they let us poke around, open the trunk, sit in the front seat, play with the buttons and even ride in the back seat from the back of the lot to the front of the lot. Naturally, we both fell in serious like with the car a feeling that intensified as we sat in the dealership later with a pamphlet detailing all the information about the car. And all the while, in the back of my mind, I realized that we would have to make a choice either the car or the solar panels. Which one was a better deal for us financially? Which one would make a larger impact on the environment?

In the end, we chose the car. For one thing, it will cut our gas bill significantly, but more importantly, we are firm believers in supporting this kind of technology. The more people who buy the car, the more the demand for it will grow, and the more varieties of vehicle will be designed with the hybrid concept in mind. Less gas used, fewer emissions produced, and eventually the environment will be much better for it.

As for the solar panels, they are not cancelled entirely from our goals for the house. Instead they are merely postponed. Technology being what it is, I fully expect that the field of solar energy will improve quite a lot in the next five or ten years. They'll make the panels smaller and more efficient, and also cheaper. And in the meantime I am poking around online, checking out green energy certificates. As near as I can figure, these things are tailor made for people like us, who live in areas where the utilities company doesn't provide a green energy option for consumers. It's not quite as environmentally 'good' as the solar panels would have been, but I figure at least they're a good step in the right direction.

But I think I'll hang on to that certificate just in case. After all, it's most likely going to be a few months until our Prius arrives. Which means there's plenty of time for me to think about this.

And think.

And think.

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