Solar profile: Keith Shank

Keith Shank recently had a 48-panel 12 kW system installed on his home. This made him the first member of Solarize Augusta to go solar. We spoke to him about his experience.

Why did you decide to go solar?

I’ve always tried to conserve energy and keep costs down as much as possible. The falling cost of a solar system and the availability of net metering have made solar a viable option for providing economical power for our home. We should recover the cost of the system in roughly 10 years. After that, we will basically be getting free electricity.

Solar power also provides some insurance against rate increases by local utilities. While the initial cost is pretty steep, once installed, the cost of our solar power will not increase no matter what happens with the cost of coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, etc. As long as the sun continues to shine, we’ll continue to generate electricity. If it stops shining, we all have bigger problems!

The final factor, but not the least in importance, is that solar just seems to be the right thing to do. I have children and grandchildren, and I’d like to minimize the negative impact my existence has on the planet that everyone who comes after me will inherit.

Why did you decide to go solar with a co-op?

I started looking into solar before I realized there was an Augusta Solar Co-Op. When I learned about the co-op, and attended an information session, I realized there were significant advantages to being part of the group. The first obvious advantage is that the collective purchasing power of the group can help bring down the cost of going solar. The other factor that persuaded me to join the co-op is the support provided by the people coordinating the effort (VA SUN).

Working with the co-op provided confidence that much of the leg-work I would have needed to do on my own was being taken care of, on behalf of the group, by people who were knowledgeable in the field. Information on system configurations, regulatory requirements, vendor evaluations, tax consequences, etc. was readily available from experienced people who had no apparent motivation beyond assisting the group and furthering the cause of solar power.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to go solar?

My advice would be to first do some research and reading about solar power. It would be helpful to know how much electricity you are currently using at your residence, and how much it will cost to offset a portion of that usage with solar power. There is plenty of information available on the internet, and the VA SUN website would be a good place to start.

If possible, I’d recommend talking with people who have already gone solar. I’ve found they are generally very enthusiastic about their systems and more than happy to share their experience and advice.

If planning a roof-mounted system, consider the expected remaining lifetime of your current roofing material and the cost of re-roofing prior to installation vs. after the system is installed. This was a major item for me. I considered replacing our asphalt shingle roof with a metal roof before installing solar, but finally decided that was not the way to go for us.

Last, I would recommend finding a co-op to work with, if available in your area, for the reasons stated above.

Is there anything that surprised you about going solar?

I was surprised how many people in our area were interested in solar power and how varied were our backgrounds and reasons for being interested. Reasons for going solar included just wanting to save some money on electricity; wanting to save the planet; and being very angry with power companies and wanting to go completely off the grid and never pay them another nickel.