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West Slope solar panels save power for future

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Kara K. Pearson/Post IndependentJeff Grebe, owner of Mechtric Engineering, wires one of 72 solar panels at Gary Jochum's home outside of Glenwood Springs.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” When Gary Jochum was 15 or so, he was a runaway living on a quarter a day.

“I’d eat half a burrito in the morning, the other half at night,” he said.

Now, at 55, Jochum has been retired for almost a decade, and is sinking what could amount to $100,000 into solar panels for his home on a hill overlooking U.S. Highway 82 between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

It will be completed in a few weeks and will be one of the larger systems tied in to the grid of Holy Cross Energy, a utility serving the Roaring Fork, Eagle and Grand valleys.

Jochum credits the successes he has had in life to having other people believe in him and build his self-esteem. It’s a lesson he thinks is important to apply to the youth of today. And it’s those youth, and their future, that have motivated him to use renewable energy.

Jeff Grebe, of Mechtric Engineering in Glenwood Springs, is helping Jochum install the panels. Grebe said many who are interested in solar power want to know first and foremost how soon they’ll recoup their investment.

“Solar is not about payback in the form of dollars and cents in the next five years,” Grebe said. “You do solar for the future, you do solar to use an energy source that’s sustainable. The payback is in the environment.”

Jochum’s 12.2-kilowatt system will spare the atmosphere from more than 1.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide that a traditional energy source would generate over 25 years.

He will be credited for production of any excess energy, which will go into the Holy Cross system. He plans to build a second home on the property, and the system then will cover about 75 to 80 percent of the power to both homes and a workshop.

Craig Tate, member services representative for Holy Cross, said a handful of people in the ultiliy’s service area have installed systems as big as Jochum’s. Someone in Aspen put one in of a similar size earlier this year. A new one in Eagle County is a 25-kilowatt system.

Holy Cross offers a rebate of $2 a watt, for up to 25 kilowatts. That means Jochum will receive a rebate of some $24,000 from Holy Cross. He’ll also get up to $6,000 from the Roaring Fork Valley-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency.

Last year Holy Cross customers did a record 14 installations that qualified for its rebates. This year, the utility’s board increased the rebate budget, and 37 installations already have occurred.

Tate said solar systems now have about a 20- to 30-year payback.

“If energy rates climb as everyone is predicting, then that payback rate is going to go down,” he said.

Grebe said Jochum’s system has a 25-year warranty.

“What Gary has done is he’s bought his electricity for the next 25 years. Depending on what happens to the cost of electricity he may look like a genius,” Grebe said.

For Jochum, investing in solar just seemed like a worthy use of some profits from some property investments.

He’s come a long way since he went to live in a boys home in Nebraska at the age of 10, and then ran away as a teen to California. Jochum credits his wife, Leslie, with helping build his self-esteem and giving him the confidence to succeed in life.

“It’s not necessarily school smarts but it’s how you feel about yourself,” he said.

He went from being a bagger to managing a grocery store, then moved with his wife to Redstone in 1979. He worked in a variety of jobs, and owned Computer Junction in Carbondale until selling it in 1996. He was able to retire then because of property investments he had made over the years.

He believes any little thing that people can do to help a kid can make a difference. Likewise, small things such as wrapping hot water heaters with insulation and installing low-flow water fixtures can help the environment ” for the sake of today’s adults, and their children.

“Every little bit that we save is going to give us back in the future, pay us back,” Jochum said.m


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