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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Mac McCormick a solar true believer with an $8-a-month power bill

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 11, 2017

Mac McCormick’s request struck me as rather ill-timed, to say the least.

Here we are, mired in the dead of a particularly abominable winter, and the 72-year-old Spokane Valley resident wanted to bend my ear about sunshine and solar panels.

“I believe in clean energy and I want to tell others,” he explained, adding, “I’m helping to create a demand.”

I almost blew McCormick off until he got to the punchline. Thanks to the 26 solar panels he put in his backyard, his monthly electricity fee is just eight bucks and change on his Avista bill, he told me.

Hmm.

Then he added that he was getting ten grand back from the federal government.

That is worth talking about.

So I agreed to go see McCormick, which wasn’t so easy due to the Tuesday morning blizzard that was making a mess in Spokane, especially in my neck of the South Hill.

I backed my Camry out into the street with high hopes and immediately got high centered.

Damn. Apparently I don’t live close enough to any city officials to warrant a more expeditious plowing routine.

Thanks to a few rocks back and forth, I was able to roll onward and eventually make it to the immaculate home McCormick built, off Barker Road.

I was quickly glad that I made the trip.

McCormick is a good-natured character with much on his mind. He talks so fast I had to keep telling my new friend to slow down so I wouldn’t misconstrue his compelling patter.

“People don’t really stop and think of the advantages” of going solar, he said in one burst. “Figure it out. A dollar calculator is all it takes.”

McCormick led me through the garage and into his kitchen where I met Linda, his equally charming wife. The McCormicks have three daughters, two of whom have severe health issues and live at home.

“I’m one of the most fortunate people I know,” McCormick said.

“My house is paid for. I’m in good health. And I’ve been married 50 years to a woman straight from heaven.”

McCormick lives for keeping busy. When he’s not working at Spokane Power Tool he can be found in the shop behind his house, building furniture and working on other projects.

He credits his father, James, for teaching him the tricks of the construction trade when he was growing up in California.

Whatever talent he has came from working “hard all my life so that I can swing a hammer and keep from smashing my fingers.”

McCormick showed me his stack of telltale power bills. He gave me a look at an internet website that monitors his electrical production, in gigawatts no less.

Great Scott!

All I know about gigawatts is that putting 1.21 of them into a flux capacitor will send a DeLorean sports car back to when Ronald Reagan was in the movies.

I am smart enough to know this: Anyone seriously thinking about going solar should first call the Avista Customer Service department at 800-227-9187.

McCormick had been chewing over the solar issue for years before pulling the trigger.

And while he is motivated by a desire to help save the planet, McCormick is also very much aware of the pragmatic side of the ledger.

The $37,281 the couple laid out to go solar, he said, will be paid back in just four years. After that, money from power production will keep rolling in.

It helps that McCormick didn’t need to borrow anything to get involved.

“I’m such a cheap bastard,” he confessed. “I pay cash for everything. It’s just what I believe. Credit to me is a form of slavery.”

There’s a lot to consider, of course. Many people (like me, for example) don’t have McCormick’s yard space. Nor do we appreciate the wretched aesthetics of putting clunky solar panels on a roof.

I could change my tune on that. Those cosmetically appealing solar shingles Tesla was making noise about last fall look very intriguing.

So who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all be energy farmers, just like ol’ Mac McCormick.

This “is a huge industry,” he said of clean energy. “You can’t stop it. It’s like a rolling snowball.”

Note to Avista: You power czars should harness the energy of this true believer for a future TV commercial.

After an hour or so he’d had his say. My host led me back through the garage and bid me so long.

It was still plenty cold outside. But it warmed me some to think about what McCormick had said earlier, when I asked why this was so important.

“I think it’s because I see the future on being green for our kids and grandkids,” he told me. “When I dump out of this world I want to know I’m leaving something behind.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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