(Not Yet) Solarized

solar panelsI don’t know what it is about meetings recently, but they are not being conducted to my satisfaction. I went to one on Thursday, knowing the venue was an extremely poor choice — but it was worse than I was expecting.

On the one hand, this was good, because it was a meeting to (ostensibly) explain Solarize Gunnison, and turn-out was tremendous. But this was also what made the meeting almost untenable, because there was nowhere to put everyone.

Prior to Thursday, I had been to the High Alpine Brewery precisely one time. I don’t drink craft beers, or any other kind of beers, so that’s one reason, but I used to go to the Gunnison Brewery on a regular basis. And it’s not High Alpine’s fault that they’re not like one of my favorite eateries, but they’re no Gunnison Brewery, now long gone but still missed. And wood-fired just isn’t my cup of pizza. I had a pulled pork sandwich in my one visit, which took place in December, and I would rate it fair to middlin’. But the ambiance got a “poor” rating from me.

The owners spent a small fortune refurbishing an old Gunnison building, and it looks nice in urban-industrial fashion, with exposed brick and ductwork, some wrought iron, some burnished wood. But most of the building soars up two stories, allowing sound to swirl, resonate, reverberate and generally ricochet everywhere. It is so noisy you have to shout to be heard across a small table for four.

Now, we will never mistake me for a foodie, but from time to time I like to read restaurant columns and reviews, so I know that noise is an “in” thing for the hip crowd. But I’m an old curmudgeonly sort, and I would like to be able to enjoy my meal and my meal companions at a low-decibel level. One visit was enough to make it quite clear to me that High Alpine would be probably the worst choice in all of Gunnison to hold a meeting.

And yet, that’s where Solarize Gunnison thought would be a good place to introduce themselves to the denizens.

They realized their mistake early on, although why they didn’t realize this when selecting a venue I don’t know. Even if they had bought up the entire restaurant for a night, the echoing walls would have been a distraction. But realizing a mistake after people are already seated and imbibing their free beer but not really eating the appetizers (because it was not conducive to get to them) is too late.

I mean, it was a nice idea, to ply their audience with food and drink, but — and I wouldn’t have taken this into account either — the audience skewed older, many of the attendees veterans of plenty of meetings, all of whom could have been sated by information alone.

If we had stopped and thought this through, of course the audience would be composed thusly: this is a program about putting solar panels on your property. You have to buy the panels — this is not a lease program, although there turn out to be a couple options locally for that. So, to participate, you need to own a home ($$$), and you need to be able to afford solar panels ($). That cuts out a lot of young people.

The organizers themselves are young, two students aiming for their Master of Environmental Management degrees from Western Not State. And they were well-prepared, beyond the venue choice. In a different locale, this would have been a fairly successful evening. But with people packed into corners, and all the way up the stairs (where I’m sure they could neither see nor hear), the students scrambled and put together an ancillary meeting on the even noisier first floor.

Upstairs Student, Hunter, apologized multiple times for the venue, and those of us who could hear him got the gist of the program (which is good because their website uses a lot of words to explain not very much). The details still aren’t very clear, but it’s really just a bulk buying program. Depending on how many watts worth of systems are pledged/purchased between Feb. 1 and April 30 in Gunnison County, there will be a rebate to all purchasers. The best outcome would be 40 watts, because then everyone gets the highest discount.

And maybe here I mean kilowatts. All I can tell you is that the system on the roof at my shop is 1.78, and I think that is kilowatts. As explained at the meeting, an average household system is 4-5 kilowatts (I must mean kilowatts), which will produce 6,000 kilowatt hours, on average, in a year. So if eight people sign up for 5k systems, everyone will get the highest rebate, which may have been figured in watts. Obviously I’m going to have to go to another meeting for clarification.

The other place where I’m confused is that I have already been talking with Nunatak (we got an explanation for that word Thursday night — at least, if you were close enough to hear: it’s the peak of a mountain formed by a glacier. Now you know) about a 4 or 5k system. When I first read about Solarize, I said something to them about timing my system to participate in the rebate, and their early response was, “I don’t think it’s for new construction.” Well, why not? And nothing I heard Thursday would disqualify our system from participating.

The other thing I learned is that the City of Gunnison’s solar buyback is horrible. I was actually at the city meeting where the former public works director advised the city council to stop offering net metering to its entire — what? three, five? — customer base putting solar energy back into the grid. Apparently he felt the city was getting ripped off. I spoke against it (and one of my friends said he had recently read that in the minutes from that meeting, so there I am, immortalized for the ages as a proponent of solar), but that was not enough to stem the anti-visionary tide that was (and is) the City of Gunnison’s Public Works department.

But I didn’t realize how much of a reduction it was, and at the current rates, I will never realize a return on investment for my store solar array. In the county, at our new house, the Electric Association will give me full retail price for the energy I put back — say 12 cents per watt (and here I do mean watt). But the city is crediting me about 4 cents for that watt.

So I will be going to another meeting in a couple of weeks, when the Solarize folks make a very studied presentation to a different city council, different city manager and different public works director, to put myself on the record, once again, in support of solar energy.

And I’ll go back for another Solarize introductory meeting — as long as they find a more suitable venue. Like maybe a subway tunnel at rush hour.

Above: My sister’s neighbors have embraced the coming Solar Revolution, even on roofs that face east or possibly even northeast. It’s everywhere!


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