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Progressive, conservative couple go solar

Seasonal residents erase power bills for their sizable house, and now they want to raise consciousness

Article as it appeared on St. Petersburg Times
January 2, 2008
By Nick Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Photographer: Scott Keeler | Times
[Photo: Scott Keeler | Times]

Rose Walton makes turkey soup at home. The solar system, after rebates, cost perhaps $30,000. The environmentally conscious couple look at the expense like buying a new car - but "this is much better for the world," Sherwin says.


TREASURE ISLAND - Last summer Marjorie Sherwin and Rose Walton had their Treasure Island home outfitted with a solar electric system and a solar water heater.

"We've been talking about it for years and we bought a Prius also last year, so we decided let's do it," Sherwin said.

They haven't written a check to Progress Energy since and may never have to.

Sherwin and Walton live in their Florida home only about seven months a year.

When the two retreat to Long Island, N.Y., for the summer, their electricity consumption is so low that the solar electric system is actually contributing energy to the grid.

That energy gets credited to their account with Progress Energy and offsets the cost of their bills.

In September the account had been credited $450, and as of now there was still about $80.

"I think we will really zero out," Sherwin said.

The environmentally conscious couple have teamed up with the Sunset Beach Civic Association and Solar Direct, the Bradenton company that installed their system, to help spread the word.

They are holding an informational meeting about solar power Monday at the Treasure Island Community Center.

"The nature of the discussion will be first to put this all in perspective," said Dale A. Gulden, chief executive of Solar Direct.

"No matter what your budget, there's something you can do. If everyone does something, it can really make a difference."

The meeting promises more than a sales pitch; Gulden will discuss a variety of ways for homeowners to conserve energy and water at little to no cost, and options like solar energy systems and solar water heaters for those who can afford it.

A system like Sherwin and Walton's have doesn't come cheap. The initial investment was more than $50,000. But thanks to rebates and incentives, including a $20,000 refund from the state and a $2,000 tax credit from the federal government, the cost can be manageable.

"We look at it as you buy a new car for $30,000," Sherwin said. "This is much better for the world than buying a new car."

Sherwin and Walton can expect to break even after about 10 years of powering their 3,300-square-foot home at little or no cost.

There are about 40 private homes and businesses across the state outfitted with solar electricity, about a dozen of them in the Tampa Bay area, according to Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.

"It's a tiny fracture of our energy mix," Jacobs said. Renewable and alternative energy sources like solar electricity make up only 5 percent.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, Jacobs said Progress Energy encourages alternative energy sources and even offers a $450 rebate to customers who install solar water heaters, the second most influential appliance on a power bill, next to air conditioning units.

Sherwin and Walton would likely end up paying a bill if they lived here year-round, and they admit to taking a few lukewarm showers, but the lifelong conservationists are happy with their decision.

"Everybody can't afford it, so those of us who can, need to do something," Sherwin said.

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