Ralph Talbott will happily tell you all there is to know about his solar panels – and he’ll greet you warmly, as I experienced last Friday afternoon. Hands dirty from working the garden out back, he gives me a firm handshake and leads me through his home in a suburb off Jackson Keller and San Pedro Ave.

This Sunday, Oct 7, you’ll have a chance to see Talbott’s 6.2 kilowatt rooftop solar array and impressive backyard during the Solar San Antonio’s annual Solar Tour. Ralph and his wife Linda Puente Talbott have been enjoying their array for nearly two years. Linda, however, wasn’t keen on the solar idea at first.

“I had to think about more than just the (environmental) statement it would make,” Linda said, “I thought it would be too expensive and take too long … but then we took a second look at the incentives.”

Street view - Talbott's solar array
Linda and Ralph Talbott’s solar array, as seen from the street. Installed by Ecowatt Design. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A federal 30 percent tax break, a progressive rebate program from CPS and a lower electricity bill in the future. The loan that the Talbotts took out to pay for the $32,000 installation and array has since been cut down to about $16,000 from rebates and credits.

The Talbotts applied their rebate directly to their SACU Solar Home Improvement Loan, lowering their monthly payments on the loan to just about what they now save on their electricity bill. Ralph estimates a ten-year payback on their loan.

They’ve also been set up with an online monitoring system, so they can see how much energy is produced, used, or fed back into the electric grid.

On paper: nothing lost, nothing gained … but deciding to go solar is more than a math problem.

The Talbotts live closely to nature, despite living in suburbia. They maintain a garden, have three hens and four chicks, sun-dry their clothes, and they have a rainwater catchment system for non-drinking water. Installing solar panels was a perfect fit for their lifestyle and their views of the future, Ralph said.

Talbott's chicken
The Tallbots have three hens (Coco, Freckles and Prieta) and four chicks (yet to be named). Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“We’re turning a corner in the energy business,” Ralph said, “Wind and solar could be our next industrial revolution.”

Ralph and Linda also upgraded their windows and appliances three years ago to save money and energy. It’s not just the source of energy, it’s the quantity of energy usage that needs to be changed in the average household, Ralph said.

Ralph and Linda Talbott will be hosting guests during Solar San Antonio’s Solar Tour.

As for Linda’s worries about how long the process would take: It took about a week to align the paper work and design, and only two days to install the panels. The Talbotts participated in Solar San Antonio’s Bring Solar Home program, which was designed to make the process of selecting an installer and financial plan easier.

Easier, but not completely easy.

That’s where the Solar Tour comes in. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 26 locations will open their doors and backyards, just like the Talbotts, to anyone who is curious about solar energy and other conservation measures such as composting and rainwater collection. Tour participants will be able to talk one-on-one to home owners and installers about anything they want.

Andrew Wood, research assistant at Solar San Antonio, said home owners and installers will be prepared for these questions and more at each location on Sunday. It will be a relaxed, honest environment, he said. This year tour buses are available; interested parties can sign up at their website.

A screen shot of the Solar Tour San Antonio’s website, solartoursa.com

Andrew Wood, research assistant at Solar San Antonio, said home owners and installers will be prepared for these questions and more at each location on Sunday.

  • How much will it cost up front?
  • Is my roof strong enough to hold an array?
  • What can I compost?
  • Will I have to cut down any trees?
  • Can birds or squirrels damage it?

It will be a relaxed, honest environment, he said. This year tour buses are available; interested parties can sign up at their website.

“Potential owners like to talk to home owners because they’re not trying to sell them a system,” Wood said.

This Saturday’s “Off the Grid” Solar Fest at Lion’s Field Park (2809 Broadway Street) is set up to compliment the tour – an all-in-one stop for all things solar and energy efficient. Along with solar installation companies, educational booths will be set up for children by the Children’s Museum. VIA Metropolitan Transit’s new Primo Bus will make an appearance, and local food trucks will be there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As Linda and Ralph prepare their home for this weekend’s visitors, the solar panels just sit there. Once they’re installed, very little maintenance is required – Linda especially likes that part.

“I’m glad that he talked me into it,” Linda said, smiling at her husband.

While on the tour, you might notice the chickens in the coop before you notice the solar panels. It’s okay to get distracted by baby chickens. Ralph will answer your questions about them, too.

Talbott on his roof
Ralph Talbott on his roof. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

New to the Rivard Report and San Antonio, Iris Dimmick graduated from Central Washington University with a B.A. in journalism with an emphasis on online media and energy studies. Iris currently works as editor, reporter, photographer, and assistant web editor for the Rivard Report. You can follow her on Twitter @viviris

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org