One of the toughest tasks any reporter has to perform is conducting an interview with someone who either doesn’t want to be questioned (even if it’s their job to answer) or is incapable of giving more than one-word answers.
Bob Bryant is not that person.
We contacted Bryant to ask him about the solar panels he recently installed on his property in McArthur Township. He invited us out for a look-see, and not only did we talk about the solar panels, but several thousand other subjects, including, but not limited to, a recently acquired cream-colored ’81 Porsche 911 Targa, his turkey pens complete with a tom and two hens who are either to stubborn or stupid to use the two shelters Bryant built for them (bet on stupid), a gorgeous ’05 Mercedes drop-top that looks as if it is going 60 mph while sitting in the garage, a hen house with a handful of egg-layers and the huge “Carpe Diem” granite slab his family uses as a kitchen island. We finally got around to the solar panels after he bemoaned the fact that he is having trouble tracking down a ’03 Volkswagen Phaeton.
A retired pipe-fitter, when Bryant brought up the idea of installing solar panels on their property to his wife, Laura, he got what he called her “usual response.”
“She said it was just another one of my harebrained ideas,” Bryant recalled. “She was like ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.’ ”
Needing no further encouragement, Bryant had 46 solar panels installed on a pole barn that sits on the north side of his property. As of last week, the panels were fully operational, quietly and cleanly converting sunlight into electricity that runs everything from Bryant’s garage door to his microwave. Given the abundance of cloudless skies over Logan County the past month, Bryant has been generating more electricity via the solar panels than he uses, meaning that when the 15.5 kW system is at full capacity (as it was the day we visited), Bryant is selling power to the power company. This is akin to selling beer to Sam Adams.
When his panels were first tied into the Logan County Cooperative power grid, Bryant had on his property one of the “old-fashioned” meters with the wheels and dials. When the switch was first thrown, Bryant was witness to a sight that most Americans will never have the pleasure to see: A power meter rotating backwards. Bryant hasn’t been able to wipe the smirk off his face since.
‘Economic good sense’
Bryant said that in his case installing the panels was a no-brainer. The modern outbuilding setting just north of his house is an almost perfect setting. The ground is relatively level, the building is well-positioned to receive maximum sunlight (“Almost maximum,” Bryant said eyeballing the barn with perhaps the thought of re-positioning it. “I’m four degrees off.”) and there are no obstructions between the roof of the barn and the heavens. Tying the panels into the power grid was a problem of distance which was overcome with the use of a special augur. This mole of a machine bored a tunnel 417 feet from the panels to the grid, even making it under 150-odd feet of concrete driveway, allowing a two-inch conduit to be laid to achieve the link. New digital meters replaced the wheels and dials, but when we visited, the blinking LEDs were telling the same story. At that minute (indeed, for the past 10 days) Bryant was making more electricity than he was using.
“In our case, it’s going to make great economic sense,” Bryant said. “Over the course of 25 years, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Some of those savings will come sooner than others. Bryant gets a federal tax credit equalling 30 percent of his out-of-pocket costs for installing the panels. Given that similar systems go north of $40K, we’re not talking feed for the turkeys. Also, his local provider is required by law to purchase any electricity not used on the Bryant spread, either in the form of reduced electric bills or paying ‘credits’ to Bryant, with his extra electricity fed back into the grid. “It’s a win-win for us,” Bryant said.
Of course, the panels will not be operating at night (duh) and unlike Philadelphia, it’s not always sunny in McArthur Township, so the panels will not be operating at peak efficiency 365 days a year, but with the tax credit and projected savings, he expects to break even on the panels in seven years.
While the economics certainly make sense, Bryant said that environmental savings were equally important to his family. Stretched out over 25 years, the reduction in their collective carbon footprint is staggering. Over that quarter-century, Bryant’s 46 solar panels (he thinks they could have squeezed in a couple more) will generate the same amount of energy as would 163 tons of coal and 12,000 trees, as well as offset the emissions of 500,000 cars and 535 people.
Bryant can monitor the solar panels’ output down to the second from his desktop computer. He scrolled over an icon which showed the amount of carbon emissions that didn’t hit the atmosphere that day as a result of the Bryant household running the hot-water heater or making toast: Thirty-three pounds.
“And counting,” Bryant said watching the meter inch its way upward. “Not bad for a half-day’s work.”
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.