The Power Couple


 

Ecofreak Kerrs

What do Kathy and Andrew Kerr pay for power in the summer months? Pretty close to zilch.


THE SUN SEEMS LIKE a fiery ball of bad news these days. Blamed for everything from premature aging to skin cancer, it’s a wonder we don’t all just pull down the shades and willingly turn into cave people. Hollywood neighborhood residents Andrew and Kathy Kerr, on the other hand, can’t catch enough rays. “We’re kind of solar evangelists,” Andrew says. The Kerrs are not, however, remotely interested in a killer tan. In September 2001, the couple became the first Pacific Power customers to install solar panels on the roof of their home. “We wanted to show that it could be done,” says Andrew. By the summer of 2002, the 2,000-kilowatt unit on their south-facing garage roof earned them their first negative electric bill. “It was minus $11!” Kathy laughs. They also got serious about reducing their electricity use by buying efficient appliances and remaining vigilant (even militant) about turning off lights, though Kathy insists that they are, in fact, a “normal family.” (The couple’s two teenage daughters, who then lived at home in the family’s four-bedroom bungalow, “used the microwave and had hair dryers going all the time.”) The Kerrs have so geeked out on solar power—they delight in creating month-to-month colored charts showing how much energy their home produces—that last year they installed a smaller 10-panel system on a west-facing roof. Now they enjoy an energy surplus for eight months out of the year. The pair also hosts “green tours” with the Portland Office of Sustainability, where the No. 1 question is, “How long does it take to make your money back?” After all, solar systems can cost up to $36,000. To which Kathy usually responds, patiently, “It’s a choice, not an investment. It’s more about, What’s your impact on the world going to be?