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If you’ll be in the Tulsa area on Nov. 10 and need something interesting to do with your afternoon, local alt-power guru John Miggins of Harvest Solar and Wind Power is putting together a solar open house.

The event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, will include visits to John’s office on Utica; a sustainable house that Frank Palmieri is building in Brookside; and, of course, the House of the Lifted Lorax.

I’m not sure exactly what John and Frank are planning at their places, but Ron and I intend to provide a guided tour of our house and backyard; a handy-dandy flier explaining all the stuff we’ve done to reduce our environmental footprint; eco-friendly snacks (including homemade salsa made from homegrown organic tomatoes and peppers, a batch of cookies made with honey and eggs produced in our backyard, and — if the weather is cool enough that day — hot tea and cider made right on top of the woodstove); and photo ops with the Lorax himself, who graces the mural on our garage.

We’ll try to answer all your questions about our efforts to reduce our environmental footprint … and if we don’t know the answer, we’ll be happy to make something up. 😉

Hope to see some of you on Nov. 10!

Emily

UPDATE: Click here for a PDF of the event flier, which includes directions to all three properties and details about the tour.

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So I was surfing the Internet on a cloudy Friday morning when the doorbell rang.

It was a serviceman from American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma, aka AEP-PSO.

“I’m here to replace your power meter,” he said. He warned me that if I had any computers running, I should shut them down and let him know when it was OK to begin his work.

The visit wasn’t unexpected. When we’d installed our solar panels in July, an AEP-PSO representative said it was likely that our power meter would be replaced with a digital model. When nothing happened for months, I figured it was simply the slowly turning wheels of AEP-PSO’s bureaucracy. No big deal — our solar array would work fine, new power meter or not.

After taking care of the computers, I went into the back yard to let him know he could proceed.

“So,” I said, “are you putting in a digital meter?”

“No,” he said, “we’re replacing it with the same model. We’ve been told your meter’s running backwards, and we’re putting one on that should work correctly.”

After a stunned pause, I said: “No, the meter’s fine. The reason it’s running backwards is because I have solar panels on the roof.”

The serviceman stepped back a few feet, gazed up at the roofline where the nine Sharp photovoltaic panels were lined in a row, and half-grinned. “Oh, that explains it.”

I realized what had happened. About three weeks ago, I’d received an AEP-PSO bill nearly triple of what it should have been. That’s because it was estimated, based on data from our home’s electricity usage since taking occupancy in 2004. (AEP-PSO conducts actual readings every other month.) But the estimate failed to consider our drastically decreased utility usage since the solar panels were installed in July.

I immediately checked the actual numbers on the meter and called AEP-PSO’s customer service line. I explained that we’d installed solar panels during the summer and that the estimated usage needed to be lowered. I briefly mentioned that the meter even ran backwards on sunny days. He seemed to understand, and said a revised bill would be mailed.

Weeks later, the revised bill had not arrived, and here was an AEP-PSO serviceman, thinking the meter was malfunctioning. The customer-service rep that I talked to obviously had filed an erroneous report.

The serviceman, even after seeing the solar array, was still determined to replace the meter. “It shouldn’t run backwards,” he said. “The solar panels should slow the turning, but it shouldn’t run backwards.”

I explained that this was a grid-tied system. When the sun was out and electrical use in our house was low, the meter would turn backwards. When the sun went down, the meter would resume its normal pace.

He nodded, but insisted the meter shouldn’t go backwards. I shrugged and let him swap out the device. It wasn’t like it was going to cost anything.

He also was startled when I told him that even before installing a solar array, our electric bill was as low as $32 a month.

Apparently AEP-PSO personnel have little experience with home-owned alternative energy.

He installed the meter and went on his way, convinced the problem was solved.

A few minutes later, I saw the sun peeking slightly through the clouds. I went outside to check the new meter.

It was running backwards.

So much for the so-called “repairs.”

… So the amount of power generated by our solar panel array is dropping.

However, in the past 33 days (with a lot of rainy periods), it has generated 173 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s a respectable 5.2 per day.

And because we’re using the air conditioner much less, the sun is still generating a big percentage of our total power consumption.