Skip to main content

John Prusa and his home-made solar panels (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)
More than 30 years ago, before Ronald Reagan chopped 90 percent of the Energy Department's budget for projects such as the Solar Energy Research Institute, a portion of that funding was spent on outreach programs. These were designed to show people how to build passive solar housing as well as build and install relatively simple mechanical systems like solar-powered hot-water heaters. While SERI scientists worked on exotic ideas for new, cheaper ways to generate power with photovoltaic cells and alien-looking vertical-shaft wind turbines, a piece of the institute's approach was very oriented toward do-it-yourself thanks to its chief, and my then-boss, Denis Hayes. It was a bow in the direction of self-sufficiency and the concept that some aspects of using energy more efficiently could be accomplished without recourse to second mortgages and technicians. Or, as some called it then, hippie, tree-hugger stuff.

Even as the technology of renewables has grown far more sophisticated, and solar cells vastly more efficient and less costly, some people still believe that simple and home-made can provide significant benefits.

Two of those who have gone beyond the theory are Ruston Seaman and John Prusa. They live in the hilly river town of Philippi, W.Va., population 2700, poverty rate, 20 percent. They're religious men, both of them, Seaman being a Baptist pastor, but they've got a secular mission and they've set up a non-profit to achieve it. They want to install home-made solar electric panels throughout their town and others in the region. And they want to spread their idea across America.

As reported by Erich Schwartzel, they buy component parts, much of it except the solar cells secondhand, put them together and install them with donated labor. Families who buy the solar units pay them off on the installment plan with part of the monthly savings on their utility bills. The installations pay for themselves in about 10 years. Without solar panels, those bills can run $600 a month in the winter, no small matter in a town where coal used to be king but where employment now is mostly in the service industry or at the local Baptist college and the hospital.

Prusa came to his conclusion quite a while ago: "When the gasoline went from 89 cents to 99 cents, I knew we were in deep trouble," he said. "And that's when I decided I'm going to be totally independent, energy-wise."

He made his home more efficient, built panels for a solar water heater, then installed solar cells in a framework of re-purposed shower doors and started running his electrical meter backwards. Pastor Seaman eventually learned of the system and the two established New Vision, a non-profit they hope will create a national network to do across the country what they are doing locally.

Families who receive solar panels pay for them with two currencies: money and time.

One home can cost between $7,000 to $10,000 to outfit, with trees to clear and supplies to buy. Families pay for the panels with some of the savings they start to see on their electric bills each month. The money goes into a general community fund that finances more solar panels on more homes.

"Once 10 families start paying back, there's enough for Family Eleven," said Mr. Seaman.[...]

The installation is done in what Pastor Seaman calls "Philippi's version of Amish barn building." Families who get the solar units are required to volunteer their time helping install additional units in the town or putting in community time elsewhere. Prusa has greased that system of volunteer labor with a local currency he printed himself.

They are not keeping this operation to themselves and have invited church groups from as far away as Detroit and south Texas to learn New Vision's model. In each group, they train a solar panel technician, a project leader and volunteer coordinator.

The whole operation is one SERI chief Hayes and those of us on the do-it-yourself side of the institute would have heartily like to see take off about 1981. If it had we would be a lot closer to the 28 percent figure a SERI report that year said could be the proportion of electricity produced in the United States from solar, wind and geothermal sources by the year 2000. Instead, more than a decade later, it's still just 5 percent. Perhaps, if Seaman and Prusa's concept were to take hold, we could do some catching up.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 04:27 PM PST.

Also republished by Kosowatt.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Renee, RakDaddy, JekyllnHyde, Alumbrados, paradox, Angie in WA State, Sylv, DeminNewJ, nofundy, Chi, Odysseus, thinkdouble, jotter, hester, murphy, samizdat, grollen, ogre, teacherken, glitterscale, Liberal Thinking, importer, Geenius at Wrok, mrcharlie11, asimbagirl, tiggers thotful spot, Gooserock, Danno11, mimi, wytcld, Shockwave, just another vet, wu ming, LynChi, billlaurelMD, Andrew C White, cotterperson, SanJoseLady, liz, mslat27, eeff, Mnemosyne, Andrew M, xynz, ManfromMiddletown, elfling, WI Deadhead, SallyCat, jancw, Florida Democrat, silence, bronte17, missLotus, 88kathy, Babsnc, afox, fugwb, BlackSheep1, kalihikane, Wee Mama, mint julep, whenwego, Janie, Agathena, highacidity, joe pittsburgh, mkfarkus, barath, roses, JuliaAnn, Ignacio Magaloni, jbeach, ornerydad, mollyd, oceanview, splashy, navajo, Cedwyn, Wrench44, hopeful, revsue, Quege, scorpiorising, Moody Loner, diane101, danthrax, TexDem, Dallasdoc, American Zapatista, Miss Jones, coconutjones, pat bunny, Lawrence, yet another liberal, NYFM, Chirons apprentice, Steven Payne, RebeccaG, lcrp, riverlover, walkshills, Matt Esler, JayBat, zett, zerelda, ybruti, Sembtex, WV Democrat, Kitsap River, randallt, WisVoter, Hillbilly Dem, lonespark, JayDean, Marianne Benz, Mosquito Pilot, jcrit, lurker123, rickeagle, solesse413, sebastianguy99, Gowrie Gal, sb, p a roberson, davidincleveland, drofx, G2geek, Into The Woods, ExStr8, marina, radarlady, 3goldens, Tinfoil Hat, NoMoreLies, jrooth, CTPatriot, subtropolis, OpherGopher, sc kitty, ZappoDave, truong son traveler, basquebob, ChemBob, drewfromct, Brooke In Seattle, YucatanMan, trinityfly, Laurence Lewis, boofdah, Beetwasher, marathon, SaraBeth, where4art, GreyHawk, Burned, lotlizard, Little Lulu, gerardbellavita, Sandino, kaliope, kazoo of the north, SBandini, Ozzie, minidriver, Thursday Next, zinger99, FindingMyVoice, sodalis, Cory Bantic, Lindy, JanL, mightymouse, Alan Arizona, Land of Enchantment, terjeanderson, kathny, xaxnar, Jim P, begone, reddbierd, third Party please, jrharam, Jennifer Clare, Nance, BachFan, Orinoco, detroitmechworks, myboo, Milly Watt, mjfgates, Mr Bojangles, tobendaro, Russgirl, tarantula, tonyahky, koNko, KenBee, The Wizard, deha, raincrow, sailmaker, MJ via Chicago, global citizen, wild hair, StrayCat, gpoutney, Crashing Vor, el cid, middleagedhousewife, hlsmlane, Turbonerd, onionjim, ilyana, democracy is coming, CA Nana, rsie, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, Stripe, Dreaming of Better Days, blueoregon, chapel hill guy, Statusquomustgo, Bernie68, bstotts, CharlieHipHop, Friend of the court, Elasg, Aaa T Tudeattack, BentLiberal, Thinking Fella, seabos84, ammasdarling, One Pissed Off Liberal, pgm 01, timewarp, out of left field, asilomar, Habitat Vic, camlbacker, possum, ColoTim, offgrid, Margfh, Wino, FishOutofWater, DvCM, LillithMc, operculum, terabytes, mommyof3, certainot, deepeco, Shadowmage36, FischFry, bnasley, RosyFinch, jedennis, snowshoeblue, TrueBlueMountaineer, Back In Blue, millwood, Moderation, jhop7, uciguy30, GeorgeXVIII, Zydekos, A Person, Assaf, TomP, fb, jwinIL14, rogerdaddy, bkamr, jack 1966, Clio2, flowerfarmer, wayoutinthestix, chakadog, ScottyUrb, Sixty Something, bill warnick, Involuntary Exile, Fiona West, wade norris, alasmoses, VL Baker, jamess, mikeconwell, monkeybrainpolitics, Calamity Jean, Haplogroup V, hwmnbn, dewley notid, envwq, brasilaaron, mofembot, ashowboat, petulans, elpacifico66, phrogge prince, luckylizard, MarkVA71, Troubadour, Keninoakland, CarolJ, Quilldriver, slathe, magicsister, Mayfly, angelino, lissablack, Reframing the Debate, CIndyCasella, legendmn, Fiddlegirl, Celtic Merlin, 207wickedgood, wv voice of reason, maggiejean, loftT, J M F, arendt, emboyo, greengemini, lakeguy, BigAlinWashSt, Nebraskablue, rcgillia, Norm in Chicago, susanWAstate, sweeper, Zotz, CamillesDad1, ToKnowWhy, dRefractor, geebeebee, MKSinSA, asym, mksutherland, bfitzinAR, Shelley99, synductive99, IreGyre, Losty, sfarkash, maxzj05, jfromga, astral66, Randtntx, citisven, Larsstephens, Words In Action, Amber6541, Just Bob, bronxcharlie, smileycreek, rb137, FogCityJohn, p gorden lippy, TDreamer, LaughingPlanet, jethrock, fidellio, on board 47, eb23, CS11, ColoradAnne, your neighbor, freeport beach PA, Radical def, ATFILLINOIS, cordgrass, DerAmi, cai, kalika, addisnana, nirbama, orlbucfan, elengul, BobboSphere, ericlewis0, Floande, Oh Mary Oh, txcatlin, soaglow, no way lack of brain, Onomastic, yellow cosmic seed, kerflooey, ladywithafan, ozsea1, nervousnellie, Tommye, Christopher H, vahana, freesia, FarWestGirl, Sand Hill Crane, OhioNatureMom, GollyMissMolly, California06, FightingRegistrar, gravlax, Gamblndan, Mr Green Jeans, mrsgoo, Haf2Read, marleycat, zukesgirl64, OnYourLeft, Muskegon Critic, jk2003, muddy boots, MRA NY, createpeace, Reinvented Daddy, enhydra lutris, peregrine kate, yaque, sound of progress, poliwrangler, Wood Dragon, Andrew F Cockburn, Marihilda, Vatexia, jolux, SoCalSal, SteelerGrrl, just another vortex, Nightshade Q, Regina in a Sears Kit House, Mentatmark, CoyoteMarti, Kurt from CMH, Rashaverak, caryltoo, DEMonrat ankle biter, ParkRanger, PrometheusUnbound, seriousaboutscience, longtalldrink, DawnN, YaNevaNo, ridemybike, anodnhajo, isabelle hayes, MikeMcShea, TheLizardKing, greenbastard, Mindful Nature, Siri, MikeyB33, im a plugger, dance you monster, Eric Nelson, David54, S F Hippie, FreeSpeaker, congenitalefty, martinjedlicka, This old man, Mr Robert, chipmo, peachcreek, belinda ridgewood, Syoho, Karelin, rivercard, BusyinCA, Olkate, MartyM, Canines and Crocodiles, BRog, doroma, oldpotsmuggler, GDbot, LoreleiHI, FrY10cK, ItsaMathJoke, Glen The Plumber, James Wells, John Kelly, efrenzy, WheninRome, Patrick is Lucky, Lily O Lady, Chaddiwicker, klondikepm, nomandates, seetreeme, Illinois IRV, 6ZONite, countwebb, The grouch, Tom Stokland, ocschwar, JayRaye, glorificus, GenXBadger, Setsuna Mudo, Dustin Mineau, SanFernandoValleyMom, Jerry J, shes1ofus, weck, averblue, topazOR, parsonsbeach, Ree Zen, helpImdrowning, BitterEnvy

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site