Life Off The Grid

SLAM-201509-Feature-OffTheGrid

Rick Bollar is a local Southlake community member who believes in keeping the Metroplex and our surrounding community clean. How does he support the quality of life in Southlake? The answer comes in his devotion to solar energy and electric vehicles.

Bollar says he has been living off of the solar grid for a few years.

“We have had solar in our house for around two years now. My reason is fairly simple by wanting to do my part to reduce pollution around town and to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” Bollar says.

“There are really lots of reasons that you would want to consider doing solar. There are the obvious environmental ones, which I think get a whole lot of attention; but there are also other ones that we list which are things for people that may not be exactly environmentally conscious. These are solar reasons that relate to energy security and things like that.”

Bollar understands that some people think of solar energy as a green or more far left field kind of method for electricity, but he doesn’t see it that way at all.

“Even if you don’t believe in global climate change, you know that solar energy reduces the amount of pollution just right here in the Metroplex, which is a good thing for all of us,” Bollar says.

Improving the Air Quality

According to Bollar, there are a couple of ways that solar energy can improve air quality.

“One is you are cutting down on the power plants that need to produce electricity. Power plants are typically burning natural gas from coal. 50 percent of our total electric grate comes from natural gas, another 20 percent from coal. All of which have emissions,” Bollar says.

If we are talking about using energy to power cars, electric cars eliminate all of the exhaust coming from vehicles on the roads. That is a huge benefit. Electric cars have a lot less particulate emissions on the roads than a gasoline powered car.”

Bollar says that aside from air quality improvement, solar panels can also help boost economic growth.

“Part of what is happening is the Metroplex is growing, and we are growing at one of the most rapid rates in the country. As we grow, that requires more infrastructures, which eventually includes more power plants. From my perspective, the interesting thing about power plants is that, a lot of them are only needed at the peak, on the very hottest days, where everybody needs air conditioning. That is maybe ten or fifteen days a year. Solar actually generates the most electricity at those times. So, if you have a good number of people that have solar panels on their roofs, it actually delays the amount of time it would take until the utilities actually have to build a new power plant just to cover those peaks,” Bollar says.

Southlake and the Solar Rise

Bollar believes there is an amazingly large number – several thousand homes – in the Metroplex that rely on solar energy. Southlake, though, actually has one of the smallest concentrations in solar.

Bollar says this is surprising because, typically, people in Southlake are very environmentally conscious.

Bollar says the main issue is that the process here in town is a bit more structured than in other parts of the area. It requires city council approval, which other parts of the Metroplex don’t require.

“I can tell you that every solar application which has ever been presented to the city has been approved. It’s not like they are opposed. I know Mayor Hill has solar on the factory where she prints phone books. They are very supportive of it, but the process itself has a bit of a dampening effect, I suppose,” Bollar says.

“This is because it is, in fact, a process. You’ve got to go to planning and zoning; you’ve got to apply for a specific use permit. They are always approved, but as opposed to just going to get a permit from the planning office, this has a couple of more steps.”

From the idea of wanting panels on a location to actually having the panels in place, Bollar says the process as a whole takes around six weeks in Southlake.

Bollar explains that if someone were to get solar energy installed in their home, typically people get what is called grid tied solar which means that the solar panels are tied directly into your breaker system.

“So, whatever is using electricity in your house, uses what is coming off of the panels first, and then if there is not enough coming off of the panels then it gets it from your utility. If you are actually producing more than you are consuming in the house, you wind up selling it to the utility through an agreement called “Net Metering.” This comes into play as a credit against the utility bill,” Bollar says.

“The rate I pay the utility is very simple. I pay them at the same rate that they buy it from me. So, for every kilowatt hour that I generate I get ten cents from them, and for every one I buy from them, I pay ten cents. It’s a very frictionless transaction.”

Bollar says the cost to install solar panels on a home varies based on the type of insulation, but often costs around 3 to 4 dollars per watt installed.

According to Bollar, there are various companies in town that can set up solar panels on your house.

Bollar suggests that before shopping around for a solar energy company, coming to one of the North Texas Renewable Energy Group Meetings to learn more about solar might be a good start.

As far as solar panels, right now energy is very inexpensive, especially in Texas. Natural gas and fracking have certainly given us the electricity that is the lowest cost in the country.

“At some point, I think that will end and at the point where energy becomes more expensive, we are going to see much more solar around here,” Bollar says.

“I can tell you in California, where electricity is twice as expensive as it is here in Texas, solar is pretty popular. Also, in Hawaii, where electricity is four times as expensive as here, almost everybody has solar because it pays for itself in around four to five years.“

Electric vehicles

Bollar is also an advocate for electric vehicles. He says that even if you don’t have solar panels, electric vehicles are powered by electricity from the grid, which is almost 100 percent sourced from Texas fuels.

“According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, it is about 50 percent natural gas, 20 percent coal, 10 percent nuclear, 10 percent wind, and then a variety of smaller sources like biomass and solar. Almost all of that comes from Texas, unlike cars, where almost half of the oil used on cars comes from overseas,” Bollar says.

In celebration of National Drive Electric Week, Bollar is helping to host a party at Grapevine Mills, Saturday, September 19 from 10am to 2pm.

“We are hoping to have well over one hundred electric vehicles there with lots of owners happy to show them off and talk about the fun of driving electric. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is going to be there with informational things on the benefits of electric vehicles. A couple of other organizations are going to have their stuff. There will be activities for kids as well. One of the highlights of the event will be “ride and drives” where people can actually ride in an electric car,” Bollar says.
Bollar says that electric cars are instant and the feeling of driving one is very different from driving a gas powered vehicle.
“When you push the accelerator, the feeling is instant. There is no winding up the engine to get up to speed, the vehicle just shoots off. The power is instant and I never get used to it….but, if you never want to get used to it that is fine,” he says.