Pay Now, Play Later

You can pay now and play later OR you can play now and pay later. Either way, you have to pay.

− John C. Maxwell

I think Mr. Maxwell might have borrowed liberally from the FRAM oil filter slogan of the 1970s when he made this remark. Regardless, I have a lot of respect for this sentiment and I believe it is a notion that often goes unheeded in North American society. Allow me to illustrate its intent with a personal anecdote…

By the spring of 2011, I had become painfully aware that I, personally, needed to do something to shelter myself and my family from the impending energy crisis we currently face and the worsening effects of climate change. Not only was the federal government of the day failing to act on renewable energy opportunities and climate change, but actively stifling alternatives to dwindling fossil fuel supplies and ignoring the reality of climate change. So, after much research and soul-searching, my wife and I decided to invest in the PV solar system detailed here.

We made this decision based not only on a moral principle but on a solid financial argument. It had to be, as we did not have the money to fund this project independently and, therefore, needed to re-mortgage our home to pay the capital cost. I prepared a financial proposal for our mortgage holder (Bergengren Credit Union), which was approved on the spot, based on the facts I had presented.

So, off we went on our solar odyssey and, in September 2011, we started collecting and using our own energy from the sun to power and heat our home. The first year passed and everything worked just as predicted. We produced half of the electricity we used that year, at a price (13.8¢/kWh), just slightly higher than that charged by NSPI at that time (13.3¢/kWh). In other words, for that first year we paid about a half a cent premium for the electricity collected by our system. Not bad, right? We figured the extra money we spent that year (about $50) was money well spent on the health of the planet.

Something interesting happened on that first anniversary, however. I felt I had somehow fallen short of doing my part to help mitigate climate change. I thought, “Well, producing half of our electricity is okay but…what if we could produce 100% of our electricity? How cool would that be?” Well, we had already “maxxed out” the amount of PV we were allowed to install, so the challenge became, “How to live within the constraints of our solar infrastructure?”

Again, after exhaustive research, I discovered that we Canadians are the most wasteful consumers of electricity in the world, while paying the least for this electricity of any country in the world (see: Lindsay Wilson). It turned out that by monitoring our usage and employing some easily attained conservation measures, we were able to reduce our consumption to the point where, since 2013, our PV system has produced all the electricity we have used at our home (with a little left over, each year, to sell to NSPI!). Again, not bad, right?

Well here’s the real treat: we will continue to produce our own electricity, at 13.8¢/kWh, for at least the next 20 years while NSPI is currently charging almost 16¢/kWh (with another rate hike expected in the new year). That’s right, for every future NSPI rate increase (averaging 5%/year over the last ten years), we will be saving that much more money on future electricity costs. Our system will have paid for itself in about 10 years from now and will then continue to provide us with “free” electricity afterwards, while still having ten years of warranty remaining on all major components of the system.

In the spirit of the opening quotation, I would characterize what I have done as paying now and playing later. We will all have to pay, one way or another, for the energy we use now and into the future. In essence, I have chosen to pay now, as I find the future difficult to predict. Everybody has to make their own choices for their own reasons. This story is meant to explain some of the choices I’ve made regarding the costs of energy.

by Peter Ritchie
guest blogger

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