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Couple tries to stay energy efficient in Fulton

Judy McKinnon’s home looks a bit different than other homes in her neighborhood.“Well, when you look on the roof you’ll see two sets of solar panels. The one on the left is a solar thermal panel — it heats water for our home for dishwashing, clothes washing, showers," says McKinnon. "On the right you’ll see a photovoltaic array.”

That’s right, a photovoltaic array — better known as solar electric panels — sit on McKinnon’s roof. The 16 gleaming panels were installed earlier this month, but McKinnon says getting them there didn’t happen overnight. McKinnon, a homemaker, says she’s had a passion for the environment since she was a child.

“Take care of the world that God gave us and I don’t think we were given the world to destroy it,” she says.

It’s that philosophy that drives her and her husband, Jim Stevermer, to be energy conscious. The couple has lived in Fulton for about 14 years, and over time, saved enough money for their energy efficient home. Now, after about three years of living in their dream home, they could afford the solar panel system. And at $13,000 after a 30 percent tax credit, it wasn’t cheap.

But McKinnon says that like anything else, installing solar energy is an investment.

“You can invest money in a bank and get a percentage interest or you can invest money in property," McKinnon says. "You can invest money in solar panels too and get money back.”

For McKinnon and Stevermer to get money back from their investment, the City of Fulton first had to set up what’s called a net-metering system.

Darrell Dunlap is the Utility Superintendent for Fulton. He says it’s basically a credit system that tracks how much energy McKinnon’s solar panels produce.

“If they produce more than they use, there’s a credit issued that they get up to 12 months to use, and it’s based upon the energy cost for the previous year,” says Dunlap.

Delwin Dowd is with Son Solar Systems in Hartsburg. He says the system his company installed at McKinnon’s home should produce a significant return.

“Calculations show that that system will offset over 70 percent of their electrical needs,” says Dowd.

So on a recent sunny day, McKinnon’s home is giving energy to the city, rather than receiving energy. By averaging together the sunny months where they expect to receive credit from the city, and the winter months in which they’ll pay a small electric bill, McKinnon expects the system to have paid for itself in 13 years. And while that’s a long time to  see a return on the investment, she’s happy to watch her energy consumption go down in the meantime.

So, is this the last step for McKinnon in her pursuit of energy efficiency?

“If I could, I’d get public transportation in Fulton,” McKinnon says.

Perhaps that’s a project for another day.