I live in Scottsdale. One day, many years ago, on a really hot day, I grabbed the mail out of my mailbox and rather than throwing away all the junk mail, I read them. One of the ads was a postcard for lots that were available in Overgaard, about an hour East of Payson.

I went up there and looked at the lots. It was 115 in Phoenix, and humid. It was about 70 and raining in Overgaard. I was sold before I got more than a few feet onto the development.

A few years later, I built a home there, and then added an airplane hangar (this after a particularly nasty hail storm and stories from my airplane mechanic about the fun of replacing all the airplane skins on another customer’s plane.

Our place in Overgaard is a wonderful getaway, and my main regret is that we just don’t get up there often enough. Right after we finished building, I mean the very next month, we had the big fires, the Rodeo-Chedesky fire and others. When that happened, I installed a well and then a sprinkler system so I could keep the trees from dying of drought and bark beetles. Then I found out how much power it takes to pump an 1800 foot well!

And… I burn a pretty substantial amount of propane each year, just keeping the house above freezing. I don’t heat the hangar, just have some heat tape on critical water systems.

Come the real estate crash and now the impending debt crisis, I started thinking about what I could do to be more independent. If I could put in a large enough solar system to pump the well, that would cover most of my needs. The well has a 30 amp breaker on a 240v circuit, so I’m betting it needs around 7000 watts.

When I first started looking at solar systems, APS had a $3 per watt incentive, and my utility in Overgaard had about a $1 a watt incentive. Then, a year later, APS reduced their incentive substantially, and with competition in solar panels, the prices fell. And — my utility increased their incentive to $3 a watt!

I researched solar companies last January, and signed a contract for a solar system in February. Last month, 8 months later, the company returned my deposit and said they would be unable to perform. What!!!! I was a little concerned about losing the $3 incentive, so I called another company I was aware of, located closer to Overgaard and with knowledge of dealing with my utility. Literally 3 weeks later the entire system was installed and passed the initial inspection.

The system I have installed now is a 13,000 watt system, although I expect max production to be in the area of 10,000 watts, for various reasons, especially in the winter. This should be plenty to pump the well. But there are other issues. To get the incentive, I had to opt for a “grid tie” system, which means that the solar system puts excess power back into the power grid if you are not using all of it. The drawback is that if the grid goes down (ie. there is a power outage) then the solar system is also shut off and you have no power. Tens of thousands of dollars of equipment sitting there, useless.

The answer, which is not very satisfactory, is that you have to spend another 5k-10k to set up a battery based inverter that becomes “the grid”. Then, the “grid tie” system sees the battery based system and starts generating power. I’m not sure of all the particular technical reasons for creating a system that only works if the grid is there, but I smell a politician involved, because surely no competent engineer would design such a system by choice. Sort of like designing a car that won’t run unless it is being towed by a bus. Really?

I’m waiting on the final inspection before my system will go live, and I will share my experiences with my bills, the power company, and seeing about changing the system so it will run whether the grid is there or not. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to very low power bills for the foreseeable future, and much lower propane use (although I am implementing a solar heating system as well).


Hangar solar