Couple turns toward sun to chill high bills

These solar panels are installed on the roof of the home owned by Jayne Archer-Jenkins and her husband Rupert. (Courtesy photo)

By T. Scott Boatright

A Lincoln Parish couple has found somewhat of a sunny treasure thanks to installing solar panels on their Dubach home.

Jayne Archer-Jenkins said the idea was the brainchild of her husband, Rupert.

“My husband has always acknowledged – embraced – different ways of doing things and was intrigued by it,” Jenkins said. “But I have to say, it was purely a financial decision. We’re not trying to give the impression that we’re trying to make a ‘green statement’ or anything like that, so it was very much financially motivated.

“We knew that we had a home that would make it easy to install solar panels and get the maximum benefit from that just because of the type of roof we have and the aspect with east-west facing. We don’t have many overhanging trees, so we knew we would probably do well by going solar. We looked at the number and figured it would be a very good financial move.”

Jenkins said the fact that she and her husband grew up in the United Kingdom and moved to Ruston when they bought out her father’s business here, played a role in her husband’s idea to make the move toward solar-produced electricity.

“In the UK and Europe, there is a lot more thinking about and use of alternative energy sources,” Jenkins said. “So the idea of solar came from over there, which is really kind of ironic because they really don’t have the weather for it over there.” 

After installing the solar panels on their roof, the Jenkins made a move to further the benefits of their solar panels by purchasing an electric car to join their gas-powered V8 truck..

“Just because of the practicality of the limited range of electric cars we knew it would be best to have both,” Jenkins said. “My husband drives the big, gas-guzzling V8 truck, and I drive the electric vehicle.

“It’s just a standard plug-in electric car. We have an electric car charger at the house. It looks like the device you use to put gas into a car tank. But when you open the flap, instead of sticking the gas spout in there you plug the charger into the car. So the car is using the same energy we’re drawing for our roof solar panels.”

Jenkins said the conversion process of adding the solar panels on to the family’s house did take some time.

“The company was very thorough with the assessments and studies they did before actually installing the panels,” Jenkins said. “You have to consider things like roof pitch, which can affect the solar draw the panels are bringing. Then there’s the consideration of how many pounds (of panels) can be placed on the roof within a given area without causing damage to the roof itself. 

“We have 43 panels, we have a good-sized array all up on our roof. So there’s assessments and calculations drawn from those assessments. And then there’s the interface with Entergy, which still provides some of our electricity.”

Jenkins said tying together a home solar system with electricity sent into a home by the electrical provider can be a tedious process.

“The whole process from start to finish takes about five months,” Jenkins said. “Part of our game plan is to get our own batteries and almost go off-grid. But at the moment you still have to pass that energy you produce through Entergy.

“One of the things people should be aware of is that unless you’re going to be able to go off-grid, you’re not going to get away from it (relying on an electrical provider for at least some energy). They’ve been really cheeky. I don’t know if this is the same as with other electric providers. But they buy the electricity we don’t use from us. So what we use during the day when we’re still producing solar – we still use that. But any excess, and of course there’s a lot during the summer, goes up the line and is banked for us.”

So Entergy technically pays the Jenkins for that excess electricity, but when the Jenkins draw that electricity back, they are charged a premium.

But even during multiple days of overcast skies and rain, Jenkins said they have not run out of solar-produced power.

“It produces enough where that’s not a problem,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been on solar power for about two years now and we’ve built up about $700 credit. They don’t give that back in monetary value, they give you that electricity back (with the premium).”

But in the end, Jenkins said it’s all been worth it.

“It’s definitely beneficial,” Jenkins said. “But my word of advice for people thinking about it is that they really need to do their homework and do their math to make sure it would be beneficial for them.  

“If we didn’t have the electric vehicle, it would not be worth it because we don’t use enough electricity in the house to benefit from it. That was a big change in a positive direction – when we got the car about a year ago.”

Jenkins said that was because during that first year producing solar power without the electric car, the family was producing so much excess solar energy they weren’t getting any benefit from it.

“We weren’t seeing a benefit because we weren’t receiving any monetary value for it. But gas prices were going up at that time. So now, with my vehicle and the house running on the power we’re producing, with all the outstanding charges and little things thrown in, our energy bill is running about $35 to $40 per month. 

“That’s running both the car without paying for gasoline and the house.”

Even better, there have still been more benefits than that.

“We got a $13,000 tax rebate for installation of the solar panels, and on the electric vehicle we got a $7500 tax rebate,” Jenkins said. “This has all been very much financially motivated.”