I managed to catch Technical Sergeant Dawan Woods in a brief relaxed moment between his job at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base and his other job parenting newborn twins. He was willing to take a moment to talk solar with me because he’s been trying to get panels on his home in Brandon, FL for over a year.
The reason? “We just had twins four weeks ago so our energy consumption’s going to increase. It would be great to put a cap on that.”
“I’m gaining more from installing solar energy than I would be if I didn’t. Long term, in ten years, I don’t want to continue paying an electric bill… solar’s going to eliminate one of my expenses each month.”
Woods, 36, is an Equal Opportunity Specialist with the Air Force and has served for 17 years. He switched careers to be with his family more regularly, after three tours as a fire fighter in Iraq and Afghanistan. He bought his home in a new development in Brandon about three years ago.
He secured loans to cover the cost of a 10kW solar electric system with a solar water heater to eliminate pool heating bills, which he expects to cut his monthly power bills from $240 to close to zero. He encountered resistance from his homeowners’ association, which wanted to restrict his system to certain sides of his roof. He’s done a lot of education in his neighborhood.
“The HOA was concerned that my panels will lower property values in the area, but it’s actually been shown in study after study that solar increases property values. And it’s an advantage for me, too, if I ever want to sell this house. The low power bill would put this house within reach for someone who otherwise couldn’t afford it.”
“When I talk to my neighbors about it,” he says, “I have to explain it’s like buying a car – it’s expensive, but you wouldn’t think of paying for one up front. The solar panels look even better than a car because a car loses value, while the solar is actually an investment.”
“I’ll be paying the same amount on the panels you’d pay to TECO (Tampa Electric Company, the local electric utility) every month…. Why pay TECO for ten years and get nothing to show for it when I could do solar and have virtually no electric bill after ten years?”
Net metering – a basic solar policy that allows people with solar to sell power back to electric utility at the retail rate – is central to Woods’ calculation. Without such a policy, it would take a lot more than ten years to pay off the panels.
Woods plans to apply for the rebate that Florida utilities will offer solar customers for the last time in January, 2015, but says he’ll go solar whether he gets in or not. The program has been so popular that TECO runs a countdown clock to the moment when they’ll become available.
Solar energy wasn’t on Sgt. Woods’ radar until he visited his father back in Oakland, CA, where he grew up. He had no idea that his dad had gone solar – they weren’t exactly environmentalists – but it piqued his interest for financial reasons. A self-identified analytical person, he researched thoroughly and came up with his current plan.
I asked him about claims that solar is only for those who are already ahead. He pointed to his day job investigating claims of unfair treatment. “I’m a civil rights activist. I fight for people to be treated fairly: everyone has a voice. You’re not denied a job or opportunity based on how people look or how people perceive you.
“I was born and raised in Oakland; I’ve been in struggling communities. My family’s still climbing out in some ways. Solar works for us, and with more education, it can work for everybody.”