As April 22 quickly approaches, Sundog Solar owner Gary Wolf recalls attending one of the first Earth Day celebrations many years ago.

“Some of us are old enough to remember that first Earth Day back in 1970,” he says. “I was in college then. It took a whole generation to have another Earth Day in 1990 where the focus shifted to the three Rs: Reduce Reuse Recycle.”

Now that those words have become a well-ingrained part of American culture, Wolf sees a new shift coming in Earth Day’s focus.

“The main theme of Earth Day now is energy,” he says, “alternative energy and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the quickest and easiest thing to do by flipping off a light switch. In the long range though, it’s in how we build our buildings and lay out our cities. Energy efficiency payoffs are both quick and long term.

“We need to think about where we get our energy and how much we use,” he adds. “Energy efficiency and energy conversion go hand in hand. The one thing we all have big control over is our energy consumption and controlling how much we use determines how much we pay.”

As owner of Nashville’s Sundog Solar, Wolf definitely knows his energy. Beginning his solar power career as a primary installer and crew leader for Tennessee's oldest and largest full-time solar installation company, Wolf worked on 40 residential and 20 commercial installations ranging from 2 to 50 kilowatts in size. He then taught solar installation for a workforce development training program he created at the Tennessee Technology Center at Dickson before forming Sundog Solar Energy LLC in late 2010.

“Solar is an efficient, long term investment,” he says of the alternative energy source. “The coal plants were thought to be when they were built a generation or two ago, but now they are being retired for numerous reasons. Solar is a 30-year bulk buy of clean electricity. Solar can be a self-sustaining, economic investment, and the price of solar is now getting to where people can afford it.”

Wolf goes on to explain that sun is like an unlimited source of energy. “Every minute,” he says, “enough sun energy lands on the earth to power everything for a year. We’re a long way from taking advantage of that resource, but we can head in that direction.”

The environmental reasons for making a switch to solar energy are very apparent, he explains, but there are economic reasons as well. Those who make the switch can receive many of the following:

  • 30% federal tax credit applicable through 2016.
  • Accelerated depreciation for commercial taxpayers.
  • Up to $2/watt state grant for businesses and non-profits.
  • 25% USDA grant for farms and rural businesses.
  • $1,000 rebate from TVA upon commissioning.
  • Premium payment from TVA when it buys the solar power, typically twice what is paid for electricity

Investing in a solar power system does have its upfront costs, however. “Think of it like buying a new car,” Wolf says. “A $15,000 mini compact will cut your power bill by half, while a big $50,000 SUV will probably eliminate your bill and allow you to sell some of your excess power to TVA.”

Solar panels can also lengthen the life of a roof because they shade the shingles from the sun, which is the number one cause of a roof’s destruction and deterioration. Installation takes approximately a week, and Sundog Solar’s team does a full roof inspection beforehand. If the roof is not ideal for construction, they can also set ground and pole-mounted systems to better adjust the angles of the panels and avoid shade. Ground and pole-mounted systems can more expensive and require additional time to build.

Solar could be the generation of power that is closest to its point of consumption, Wolf says. While big utility scale solar farms are better for the environment, they still suffer an efficiency loss through power lines. Rooftop solar gets at the efficiency and distribution.

“People switch to solar for many reasons,” he says, “economic ones by far above all others. Most people are also motivated by environmental goals, and some want to get off the grid and get away from utilities.”

Gary Wolf and his wife, Jane, have been avid supporters and allies of the GLBT community for many years. After his retirement from MTSU, Wolf was an activist in many different social movements, while Jane had previous experience working with Nashville CARES before they opened Sundog Solar. 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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