Drive just a bit southwest of Phoenix and you’ll hit a town called Goodyear, like the tire. Pebble Creek is a 55+ age-restricted community in Goodyear. It’s a pretty conservative small town, filled with cookie cutter houses and community values. But one thing stands out – almost one-fourth of all owner-occupied homes have gone solar: 1,018 of 4,379 to be exact.
In 2008 there were only two.
“My community is one of the most conservative in the nation,” says resident Dru Bacon. “Anti-government regulations and anti-EPA,” And Bacon knows a lot about it.
In 2008, Bacon had just recently retired as an engineer in the chemical manufacturing industry “I felt like I spent my life working on the wrong side of the [environmental] issue, and I wanted to do something about it.” Bacon explains that when he was first hired in 1967, before the EPA was even formed, chemical plants dumped toxins indiscriminately into the surrounding waterways. “I fought to stop it but my company said ‘this is the way we’ve always done things; we wouldn’t be competitive if we stopped.’”
By the time he retired, Bacon had seen enough. He wanted to do something good for the environment. He chose to form an environmental club, but in the conservative community of Pebble Creek the concept gained little traction. At first, merely a handful of residents showed any interest. Then the idea of putting up solar on homes was breached, and that number quadrupled.
One visit from a solar installer later and the number of solar roofs in Goodyear went from two to sixteen.
Pebble Creek is the far opposite of a liberal mecca, says Bret Fanshaw, Environment America’s solar program coordinator, who is based in Phoenix, “The residents of Pebble Creek went solar because they understand the inherent economic value.” But there’s no question the community was slowly coming around to Bacon’s point of view. Following the initial Environment Club meetings, he received over 1,000 emails from Pebble Creek residents asking about solar.
Goodyear and Pebble Creek were making waves.
Is this story a unique anomaly that would only be possible in the sun toasted state of Arizona?
Not at all – solar can work everywhere. Take Germany for example, a nation which obtains less sunshine than any region in the continental United States, and yet generates more solar capacity that any other world nation.
“The technology is there. We don’t need to invent anything, what we need is the political will to use what we have. We can switch to 100% solar wind and electric cars, we can shut down coal and oil. What we need is for people to know the true story,” says Bacon.
So why aren’t we hearing the true story?
Arizona Public Service (APS) – the state’s largest utility company – does not like Dru Bacon.
Goodyear was making waves, and sometimes waves get you noticed. The more rooftop solar grew in the community and across the state, the more APS took note. Soon they decided enough was enough.
“The local utilities really resent what I do. They’ve sent people to try and talk to me; to convince me that I’m wrong. It’s doubled my commitment to keep doing what I’m doing,” says Bacon.
In 2013, APS began to lead the fight to cut net metering in Arizona – the program that allows solar customers to sell extra energy back to the grid. The proposed added fees of $50 per month to solar users could have crippled Goodyear’s solar boom. So Bacon planned a simple community meeting.
Soon after Bacon received a call: from APS wanting to meet. The APS representative tried to convince him that a spokesperson from APS should be present at the town meeting “because APS wanted the ratepayers to get a fair message.” After Bacon spent 30 minutes lecturing the rep about the actual facts on solar – of which the rep had little understanding – he backed down.
The tides turned after a meeting at an Arizona Corporation Committee hearing on solar net metering – one which turned out 1,200 individuals – Mayor Georgia Lord later commended him saying, “He’s been my resource on solar,” and that he was the key component of the town’s solar program, as quoted in an Arizona State University publication.1
In his work, Bacon strives to cut through the falsification often spread on solar energy. “There is a lot of bad information out there and it’s the anti-solar people who are putting out that bad information. I try and do presentations across the state and nation to counter that misinformation,” says Bacon. And it’s still an uphill battle.
Utilities may be losing to rooftop solar in Pebble Creek, but attempt still exist in many states to undermine good solar policy like net metering. Many utilities are fighting hard for the status quo; they don’t want to change.
But neither does Bacon.
“Instead of sitting back and letting this happen I’ll do my little things. I’m not going to change the world, but if there were 1,000 of me it might.” But maybe Bacon is changing the world. Every individual who takes a stand for something they believe in – no matter how small – is changing the world a little bit at a time. It takes all of us to make these things happen.
In a recent Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans believe we should put more emphasis on solar, far and away the most popular energy source listed. If you’re still reading this you’re likely one of them. An issue so momentous often seems even more hopeless and inevitable as an individual.
But you don’t have to change your whole town. You can still change something. Just get out there. Share this article. Go to clean energy club meeting. Volunteer an hour of your time. Call your legislator. Something. Anything.
If we all did, we’d be really getting somewhere.