BARK RIVER - For most people, turning on a light bulb means using electricity from a power company, but for Terry DeLoughary that bulb's light comes from the sun thanks to a solar panel in his yard.
"It's right next to the house and it's producing electricity - sometimes out of sight," said DeLoughary of the solar panel he had installed on his farm near Bark River last September.
The decision to install a solar panel was largely financial.
Gerry Nelson, lower right, of U.P. Sustainable Solar, installs solar panels on Terry DeLoughary’s property near Bark River last September. The panels reduced DeLoughary’s last electric bill by more than $100. (Photo courtesy of Terry DeLoughary)
"We had money in a retirement fund that was earning nothing," said DeLoughary. Using the money from the retirement fund to pay for the solar panel gave DeLoughary a 30 percent tax break and is providing him with the equivalent of an 8 percent return on his investment.
"I just paid our electric bill. It would have been $300 but it was $198," he said.
Because the solar panel produces more energy than DeLoughary uses during the day, the extra electricity is sold back to the grid - causing DeLoughary's electric meter to run backwards. At night, when the solar panel doesn't receive enough light to produce power, he begins to purchase power from the electric company.
"Most people, their motivation is their electric bill," said Gerry Nelson, owner and operator of U.P. Sustainable Solar, who installed DeLoughary's system.
Since opening U.P. Sustainable Solar in 2006, Nelson has installed a dozen solar panels across Delta, Menominee, and Marquette counties. The majority of the systems he installs are 6 Kw systems.
"Most people, if they're conservative can get by with a 3 or 3.6 Kw system. If you want to cover your whole electric bill, most people can get by with a six or seven Kw system," added Nelson.
For DeLoughary the panel is a long-term investment in the price of electricity.
"It's not going to wear out. It sits outside and 10 years from now it will only be worth more because the power companies will be charging more. I can guarantee that," he said.
DeLoughary's solar panel is rated to produce up to 3 kilowatt hours - 3,000 watts an hour. However, when conditions are right the panels have produced more energy.
"The best is when the sun's rays are diffused through thin white clouds," said DeLoughary. "It's like comparing a clear glass bulb and a smoked glass bulb for light produced."
Electricity production is also better on days with fresh snow, which increase the panel's midday energy production by reflecting the sun's rays. The panels also work best when not placed under trees or structures that cast shade.
DeLoughary's solar panel records statistics about its usage, including how much he has reduced carbon emissions by using the panel rather than purchasing power from a coal burning power plant.
"The sun doesn't pollute. It really doesn't," he said.
DeLoughary has lovingly named the solar panel beside his house "Raymond Brian" after his uncle who created electricity on the farmstead more than 75 years ago.
After acquiring a book and study course on electricity, DeLoughary's uncle attached a "wind jammer" - a type of windmill - to a tower. He stored the electricity in homemade batteries, which were constructed from rectangular, glass jars. "He could charge them and draw power from them," said DeLoughary.
Each of the 32 volt batteries held at least a gallon of acid and lead plates. The batteries allowed DeLoughary's uncle to power a water pump, milking machines, a cream separator, and light bulbs.
"I would like to have met him more than I did," said DeLoughary, noting his uncle passed away shortly after he was born. "He must have been pretty amazing."
DeLoughary is hoping to pass on the benefits of his solar panels to his children.
"I wouldn't buy green bananas at my age, but I bought this for my sons so they'll have the advantage of it," he said, adding that even if they chose to sell the property the panel would be an asset.