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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Solar Powered

Solar panels on the rear roof of the Hval house.  (Cindy Hval/For The Spokesman-Review)
Solar panels on the rear roof of the Hval house. (Cindy Hval/For The Spokesman-Review)

As home improvements go, I’d rather have an updated kitchen or a home office with a door. Instead, I’ve got solar panels on my roof. Twenty-eight of them.

The Hvals have gone green and it’s all my Norwegian brother-in-law’s fault.

Norwegians are a thrifty lot and when Derek heard Kjell bragging that his utility bill would “zero dollars” he was intrigued. He followed the process intently, as our brother-in-law winnowed through solar companies, selected a provider and had his panels installed.

Then Derek announced that he too, wanted our electric bill to be zero dollars. He regaled me with several lengthy presentations about the amazing benefits of solar energy, even though installing solar panels isn’t cheap.

“No sales tax on it in Washington State,” he enthused. “And a 26% federal tax credit that will drop to 22% in December. so we need to move quickly.”

Phone calls were made, funds secured, and in June our panels were installed just in time to capture rays during our sunniest months.

At least, I think we’re capturing something. Honestly, despite Derek’s PowerPoints, I’m still not exactly sure how this solar energy thing works. I mean, I get that solar power is the conversion of renewable energy from sunlight into electricity – it’s just that I don’t understand how.

Apparently, Avista does because they installed a net metering system at our house which measures the difference between the amount of electricity supplied by them and the amount of electricity generated by us each month.

“We don’t store it,” Derek explained. “Avista does and the excess is credited toward the winter months. We’re already generating more than we use. In our older years, we won’t have an electric bill!”

Then he said a bunch more stuff about kilowatts, one-to-one credits, and the grid.

I tuned back in when he said he was heading to Costco to purchase a generator. It seems like my husband’s efforts to save money initially involve a lot of spending.

“Do we need a generator for our solar panels?” I asked.

Derek shook his head.

“No, we’re not using battery back-up or anything; I’ve just always wanted a generator.”

Then he talked more about the grid.

My husband has many talents, but I didn’t know clairvoyance was one of them.

In our north Spokane neighborhood, our power lines are underground, which means we rarely have power outages. Even Ice Storm didn’t dim our lights. Yet, when Derek pulled into the driveway with the generator in his truck, our power went out for the first time since last summer’s brownout.

“See!” Derek said, tapping the still-boxed generator. “This baby operates on natural gas when hooked up to the line, or we can use propane or gasoline! It will run our lights, AC, freezers…” he paused. “But I’m not sure about your blow dryer – that sucker uses, like, 2000 watts.”

I grinned.

“I can always use solar energy and dry it in the sun.”

He took that as a sign I’ve embraced solar power, but what I’ve really embraced is my brother-in-law’s influence. You see, Kjell has also installed a beautiful in-ground pool in his backyard and recently added a hot tub.

Derek often mentions he wants to have less grass to mow, and a pool takes up a lot of space.

Lately, I’ve been dropping subtle hints about how a pool could be warmed by the sun and wondering aloud if a hot tub could be powered by a generator. If I can somehow work in “the grid,” I may be swimming laps in my own pool next summer.

For now, I’ll sit in the shade of our backyard gazebo and watch those solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon.

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