For quite a while now, I've been wishing we could invest in solar panels and have been gently attempting to convince my husband that this would be a wonderful thing. The obvious problem is that they're so darned expensive, but the biggest obstacle I face is that because of the kind of science Jim does, he understands just how inefficient they still are, and well, he's a bottom line kind of guy.
So, as I read through CG's blog the other day and compared our electric bill to both the national average and the target 90% reduction kwh, I about had a heart attack. As they say, ignorance is bliss.
Our home is run entirely on electric from our heat pump to our hot water heater to our cooktop. We heat as much as we can in the winter with wood and this fall plan to install a woodstove in the basement family room we've been finishing off along with a new air intake for the heat pump to circulate already warmed air with the fan to maximize that efficiency. In fact, we've done lots of little things, like installing all compact fluorescents downstairs and many upstairs as well where they will fit. We keep our heat pump set at 65 in the winter and 78 in the summer when we choose to put the air conditioning on as a respite from the heat and humidity outside. I've planted fruit trees on the south side of the house and trumpet creeper vines on the brick house itself to help moderate the summer temperatures. We've done things—really we have—and were, in fact, even feeling pretty good about our efforts. Until the other day, that is, when I was given a number to actually put it all in perspective.
At first my reaction was incredulity. Like maybe my kwh were somehow different than those they were talking about on the national average. Next was my attempt to rationalize it away because of course those people with the low kwh are using oil and gas, so really it's like comparing apples and oranges. Then came the renewed and more desperate enthusiasm for solar—yeah, yeah, solar was the answer.
And so came the inevitable discussion with Jim yet again about the possibility of converting to solar and the inevitable objections, all of which are perfectly rational. (Jim is always perfectly rational.)
So, I entered the final stage: depression. The forced acceptance of the fact that we use too much electricity from an electric company that draws 95% of its power from coal, and there was little to nothing I could do about it.
That lasted about a day before I was forced to face my own hypocrisy. You see, I really am no better than Al Gore. Well, our numbers aren't that bad, but I felt the same sense of hypocrisy—of speaking green and thinking green but not really living green. Or, at least, not as green as I would like.
Once I was able to face this, to own up to and acknowledge my own inconvenient truth, I found myself able to move forward and make the difficult decisions. I realized that here I had been lamenting our inability to switch to solar as the kill-switch on my green dreams. Because how could we make that next step without spending a lot of money on expensive solar retrofitting?
What I was forced to acknowledge to myself, though, is that my desire for solar really has less to do with living a more green lifestyle and more to do with being able to live my current lifestyle with impunity. Solar was a panacea: it was not only a get out of jail free card but a keep on breaking the law as much as you want card. Solar represented a way for us to avoid making the really tough choices and relinquishing the little luxuries we've all come to expect like soft laundry.
While I've always hung our sheets and beach towels on the line to dry, we've all resisted hanging clothes because of the crunch. The time I tried drying the bath towels on the line, the kids silently mutinied by putting the crunchy ones directly into the laundry and grabbing a nice, soft, electric-dried one out of the closet. I don't use any chemical fabric softeners or anything; there's just something about the tumbling and forced hot air that fluffs the towels and softens the jeans so nicely.
But now, I'm on a mission. I've enlisted the kids' help, and they've agreed. Now, I've admitted to myself that I already have solar power, but that I've been steadfastly refusing to use it. A choice. A choice that I have consciously changed to bring our energy efforts more in line with our efforts in other areas like food and water and waste.
So, I've committed to washing only in cold water and using my solar-powered clothes dryer as a large step towards reducing household energy consumption. I've confronted my own hypocrisy, my own inconvenient truths, and I've moved forward in an empowering direction even if it chafes a bit. I feel more crunchy on the inside by being just a little more crunchy on the outside. But no one said it was easy being green.