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Solar Girl

Photo: World Widlife Fund

Charlottesville, Richmond and Roanoke are following Blacksburg’s lead in launching campaigns to promote solar power on residential rooftops.  By purchasing panels in bulk, organizers can offer substantial discounts.  It’s a strategy that one University of Virginia graduate is using to persuade the nation that renewable is do-able

I met Keya Chaterjee at a science fair in Washington, DC where she was staffing the World Wildlife Fund’s booth. As an employee of that not-for-profit, she can tell you about plenty of endangered animals, but there’s one that must be saved to secure the future of others.

“Our mission is to have people living in harmony with nature, and that is simply not possible to achieve, unless we change the way that we use energy.”

So she organized a bulk purchase of solar panels for the people at work, their families and friends.  She was thrilled when 146 people signed up and decided to take her Renewable, It’s Do-able campaign on the road. She’s pitched solar panels to the fund’s corporate partners and to whole cities.

“We actually have bus shelter ads, billboards all over the country.  They show different appliances and people looking into them with sunglasses on, and they say, ‘The sun runs my fridge, the sun runs my washer, the sun runs my oven, just to help people understand that everything in your house works exactly the same when you install solar.  It’s just that it’s running from energy that comes from the sun instead of energy that had to be dug up from under the ground.”

The key, she says, is setting the record straight.  Many people think, for example, that they can’t afford to go solar.

105 – There is a 30% federal investment tax credit right now, so once you take that off, for an average sized system you’re spending 3 or $4,000 in upfront costs.  That generally pays itself off, depending on how much electricity you use, over 7 or 8 years, and then you have free electricity once you’ve paid it off, as long as the sun is shining, your meter runs backwards, and then at night when the sun isn’t shining you pull from the electrical grid as you did previously.

She’s also tackled public fears that solar technology is complex and difficult to install.

“There’s no moving parts.  There’s no maintenance.  It’s about as simple a technology as you can get.  There’s one wire that connects to your circuit breaker, and it is great, great fun to watch your meter run backwards when the sun is shining.”

To save money, Chaterjee and other staffers posed for ads – so while she’s winning new solar customers, she’s also getting her fifteen minutes of fame. 

“My son recognized me immediately and ran up to it and was like, ‘Mama, Mama!’

At the bottom of each ad, consumers are urged to save the planet from the comfort of home, informed that every four minutes another American family or business installs solar, and that they can be next.

For more information about local solarize programs, visit our website –  www.solarizerva.org  or www.solarizecville.org

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief
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