Payson Aims To Be A Solar Town

Reese Dennis speaks to members of the solar-geo-thermal tour.

Reese Dennis speaks to members of the solar-geo-thermal tour. Photo by Michele Nelson. |

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Lew Levenson and Alan Kline will never go back — they have saved way too much money.

Both men have solar panels on their homes and enjoy electric bills less than $50 a month.

“We tend to be larger users...we’re totally electric,” said Levenson. “I finally got it (solar) installed a year ago. My use had been running $250 to $325 per month. For the month of March a year ago my bill was $45. You can see why I thought it was a mistake!”

Kline has seen bills even lower than Levenson.

The two men want to help Rim Country residents find the same relief from the high cost of electricity, so they partnered with the town to create the Solar Ambassador Program.

The program started three years ago when rumblings over heating and cooling costs got so loud, town leaders went to a conference to figure out how to find relief.

Because of the conference, the town accepted the Arizona Rooftop Solar Challenge in 2010 to inspire businesses and homeowners in Payson to go solar.

“It began as a challenge to find a solution… That led to discussions about … the school district’s successful solar project and the … tremendous financial advantages available with solar applications in Rim Country,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.

To help residents, the town reviewed and streamlined the permitting process, gave seminars on the financial advantages of installing solar, financing options and practical installation tips.

Evans said as part of the Arizona Rooftop Solar Challenge Community, the town has access to programs that helped citizens work through the confusing array of rules and regulations.

“Our goal was to neither promote nor discourage solar adoption, but instead to provide a level playing field so residents would have the tools and information needed to make informed decisions,” wrote Evans.

Despite all the help, not many Rim Country residents have taken the plunge.

So the program languished and the town recognized it needed something more.

At a meeting in the Payson library, Rim Country residents who already had solar panels proved the most convincing experts.

“As they shared their stories of tackling the obstacles and challenges of implementing their own personal solar installations and of the tremendous cost savings they were experiencing, it became very clear that those with solar installations were the best proponents,” said Evans. “They knew the pitfalls to avoid and the solutions that worked in our rural mountain setting.”

After the meeting, Levenson and Kline approached town leaders with the idea of the Solar Ambassadors — the council agreed to support the group.

Levenson happily takes people on tours of existing solar installations. Levenson, a former engineer, environmentalist and professor, has a good background to speak to people about the solar process.

“I talk to people I know, in whatever the situation,” said Levenson. “As a solar ambassador, I can help them ask questions they don’t know to ask. I’m sure there’s a few things you’ve never heard of, such as it makes a difference which way your house is facing to increase the efficiency of how the panels collect the energy. The pitch of the roof is important. If it’s totally flat, it’s not getting the sun as directly as if it is tilted up. A lot of the houses, because they’re already at an angle, don’t need to get anything special done. If flat, the installer does the extra work to make it work.”

As Solar Ambassadors, Kline and Levenson hope to find more people interested in installing solar — so does the Mayor.

“Our goal was not to save the planet or to prevent global warming, it was to save money for our local residents and businesses,” he said.

Levenson said he and Kline are available to make a presentation to any organization in town. They have a list of people who have installed solar and will answer questions. And they can provide a list of solar installers for homeowners to chose from to install the equipment.

“It’s very important to me to talk to my friends in the community,” said Levenson. “You can complain about APS bills going up all the time, but you can do something about them.”

To contact Lew Levenson, call (928) 951-2202 or email him at equity@centurylink.net. To contact Alan Kline, call (928) 595-0834.

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