On the upside, Tom says they’ve only had minor repairs and maintenance to contend with. He replaced a coupler that the installer (who’s no longer in business) jury-rigged after failing to order the manufacturer-recommended part. And, when the numbers on the LCD screen of the inverter became fractionalized and difficult to read, Tom contacted Xantrex and put the warranty to work. Xantrex supplied a new LCD screen, which Tom installed in about an hour. A few times per year, he lowers the tower, using his tractor to work the pulley system, and cleans the blades and turbine.
Despite the rough start with the wind installation and net metering, Tom and Robbin were pleased with their investment and excited to do more with renewable energy. It took a few years to build up their savings, but by 2006, they were ready for the next step—a solar-electric system. With a daily average of 6.6 peak sun-hours, the valley is ripe for solar power—so much so that commercial solar farms have been popping up in the area.
This time, Tom and Robbin were extra cautious when choosing an installer. After thoroughly checking references and visiting several completed systems, they went with a solar program through their local Home Depot, which offers systems using BP modules. The store paired them up with Sharpe Solar Energy of Bakersfield, a solar integrator with more than 30 years’ experience.
Since space was not a concern and climbing on the roof to rinse dust off the modules was less than ideal, Tom chose to ground-mount the modules about 75 feet south of the turbine and 85 feet from the well house. The 2.1 kW array consists of two six-module strings tilted at 19 degrees for optimal summer performance. This setup helps offset the Houchens’ peak demand for air conditioning—plus California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebates are higher for arrays angled perpendicular to the summer sun.
The installation was fairly straightforward, taking only two weeks from start to finish. The biggest delay, says Tom, was getting a mixer to deliver the concrete needed to anchor the galvanized pipes for the array framework. Instead of waiting on the truck, the crew mixed and poured the concrete themselves. Assembling the framework and wiring the system took only a couple of days after that.
By this time, the state had turned the rebate fulfillment over to the utility companies. Still in its first year of handling the process, SCE was slow to inspect the system and, Tom says, disorganized with all the paperwork. “It was really confusing and frustrating at times, but thankfully, the installer went back and forth with them and took care of it.”
Ultimately they were able to take advantage of the CSI rebate for PV systems—just over $2 per watt. That, coupled with the $2,000 federal tax credit, reduced the up-front cost of the system by about 25%.
It’s been a decade-long journey, but Tom and Robbin couldn’t be happier with their RE investments. As of July 2008, solar and wind power are producing more energy than their household—which now includes both Tom’s and Robbin’s mothers—consumes.
Though Tom and Robbin do not have wind performance data (due to a faulty production meter), the wind contributes significantly to the overall energy produced. Using Bergey’s online Wincad Performance Model, it is estimated that this wind system provides about 1,400 kWh per month.
The solar resource at this site—a wide-open solar window from dusk to dawn—has proved to be very impressive. In its first seven months of operation, the 2.1 kW PV system has produced 3,100 kWh—about 34% more energy than estimated from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts program.