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Marietta Man Makes Energy in Backyard

With electric vehicles, 120 photovoltaic solar panels, a solar thermal system for heating his pool, geothermal home heating and cooling, and a wind turbine, Stephen Taylor takes a stand for energy independence.

Stephen Taylor didn't get into solar energy for the novelty, the savings or environmentalism.

"It goes back to when I bought an electric car in 2001, a Corbin Sparrow, which is a three-wheeled, one-seat car. I bought it mainly because I wanted to conserve gas,” the Marietta resident said. “I thought it was bad, buying so much oil from countries that hate us."

Taylor’s desire to contribute to national energy independence has led him in the past decade to turn his own backyard into a hub of energy. He has 120 photovoltaic solar panels, a solar thermal system for heating his pool, a wind turbine, and a geothermal home heating and cooling system.

That makes him the exception to the rule in Georgia, which last week saw S.B. 401 stall in a state Senate committee despite testimony on its behalf from nationally syndicated consumer advocate Clark Howard, an East Cobb resident.

The bill, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), would allow businesses to lease solar panels to residential and commercial customers and split the proceeds from selling any excess energy to electric utilities.

"I started buying cars with better gas mileage than my previous car, and I finally found electric cars, which is the ultimate. No gas at all."

Georgia is ranked 10th among the states with the greatest energy potential from solar power, according to a sun index developed for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory based on data from 1960 to 1990.

But despite projects such as Marietta Sixth Grade Academy’s receipt of a 5,000-watt solar energy system in September, Georgia is 38th in the number of solar energy systems connected to the electric grid, according to the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

Taylor "was buying solar before solar was cool," said Michael Chance, a commercial and residential energy consultant with Solar Energy USA. "He illustrates the best-case scenario that we are trying to convey to people with solar energy. If you produce your own power, you can turn that into fuel for your car and not have to shell out $3.50 a gallon for your vehicle."

Taylor noted that even as a teenager, he was conscious of his fuel use.

"From Day 1, I loved to drive, but I needed to figure out how to do it in the future," Taylor said. "I started buying cars with better gas mileage than my previous car, and I finally found electric cars, which is the ultimate. No gas at all."

Once he had an electric car, he needed a way to charge it. "I thought, 'Why not create my own energy with solar panels?' "

Taylor has lived in his Marietta home since 1986. He installed his first 6-kilowatt solar system about nine years ago.

He recently put in a 12-panel, 2.76-kilowatt dual-axis solar tracker system from Solar Energy USA. The 12 panels rotate as the sun moves.

About a month ago, he finished his 28-panel, 6.72-kilowatt photovoltaic ground-mount solar install.

"The power from the panels goes into the house, and whatever I don't use goes into the grid, and sends it elsewhere," Taylor said.

Taylor said his solar panels save him about $8 on a very sunny day and $5 or $6 on a normal day.

"The savings really depends on the homeowner," Chance said. "It depends on your power bill, your available roof space and your budget. An average residential system pays for itself in seven years and will produce power for 40 to 50 years."

Taylor typically charges his cars at night when it is dark. "It's better for the power company if I'm charging when they have less demand, and I try to offset what I'm using to drive each car with solar energy."

Since 2001, Taylor has bought several electric cars, including a Tesla Roadster and a Nissan Leaf.

"We have an old minivan too, but the van kind of just sits around. We only use the electric cars," Taylor said.

"Owning a Leaf can be cheaper than owning a gas car," he said. "There is less maintenance, and it costs about 2 cents a mile for an electric car vs. a gas vehicle at about 12 cents a mile. It's about one-sixth the cost to operate an electric car on a daily basis.”

Taylor's Leaf gets around 70 miles per charge under standard driving conditions. The Tesla Roadster goes 200 to 240 miles on a battery charge.

Taylor said federal and state tax credits are a large incentive for people to explore alternative energy right now. "The Nissan Leaf cost around $37,000, but federal and state tax credits took it down to the mid-20s."

The U.S. Department of Energy has information on Georgia incentives related to alternative fuels and vehicles.

"It's a great time to consider solar because of the tax credits," Chance said. "They are not going to be around forever, and by the time everyone learns about solar, these tax credits will be gone."

Federal and state tax credits equal about two-thirds of installation costs for solar panels, according to the Georgia Solar Energy Association:

  • Residential federal incentives cover 30 percent of the total system cost as an investment tax credit.
  • Residential state incentives cover 35 percent of the total system cost as a state tax credit, up to $10,500.

In addition, Georgia Power and many of the electric co-ops that serve Georgia offer incentives such as a rebate for installing solar and pay a premium for the power generated.

Taylor's 1.5-kilowatt wind turbine "turned out to be more of a toy than anything worthwhile. There's just not enough wind in the metro Atlanta area for it to be of real benefit."

His geothermal home heating and cooling system is another way Taylor puts alternative energy to good use. "It saves as much as 75 percent on air-condition costs and more like a third on heating."

Still, the savings are just a bonus for Taylor. “I didn't get into this from the money-saving standpoint. I'm doing this to save the country by not buying from countries that want to hurt us."

This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Marietta are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.

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