A retired Ball State University couple are taking their knowledge of sustainability and clean energy to the forefront of East Central Indiana to help households procure solar energy for their own properties.

Solarize East Central Indiana, or Solarize ECI, which is directed by John Vann, retired marketing professor, and Carolyn Vann, retired biology professor, works to help Hoosiers obtain discounted panels. 

The couple has worked with various environmental organizations over the years. John helped develop a sustainability minor at Ball State and Carolyn worked on the proposal for the solar panels at Kennedy Library, which now produce power for the building. 

Solarize Indiana Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SolarizeIndiana/about/?ref=page_internal

Solarize ECI Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SolarizeECI/

The couple now travels Indiana giving presentations at places such as Kennedy Library to educate the Indiana population on the benefits of solar panels. 

“Our goal is to get as many households as possible,” John said.

At the end of these presentations, people who attend can sign up to get in touch with the solar panel installation company. This relationship leads to a 20 percent discount from the installation company, along with a 30 percent federal tax credit and 15 years of net metering, or energy that is stored in an electric grid to offset costs. 

With these savings, John and Carolyn said the average pay off time for Indiana homeowners is 10 years.

John said he hopes forums like these will help guide people who are interested in solar energy but may have no idea where to even start.

“We give them information about how it works, why they should do it and we simplify it,” John said.

John and Carolyn receive no financial benefit from directing Solarize ECI, meaning they receive no profit and work on it during their own time.

John and Carolyn started doing presentations in September. So far, Solarize ECI has recruited 22 households to purchase and use solar panels for their households.

“It happened so fast in the fall,” Carolyn said.

Dr. Adam Beach, dean of the graduate school and professor of English, installed 18 solar panels on his house three months ago. Beach said he had always been interested in solar energy and when John pitched the opportunities Solarize ECI had to offer, he decided to take the next step.

“For me, it’s been a really positive experience. I feel good that I did it,” Beach said.

Beach said in March his panels were able to generate 500 kilowatt hours, which is about the amount of power his household will use, resulting in an even energy bill for the month.

John and Beach said the biggest obstacle for customers wanting to purchase solar panels is the upfront cost. Beach said the initial investment is difficult if you don’t happen to have the money to begin with.

“It’s a long-term project where you have to be invested upfront and you have to be able to wait long-term to get your money back,” Beach said. “But for me, because of my environmental interests, I just love having them.”

Beach said the panels also have made him and his family more mindful of electricity use, and thanks to an app on his phone, he’s able to track how much energy the panels produce.

John and Carolyn plan to install 30 solar panels on top of their barn to power their home.

“If you have the money upfront, I can’t see why anybody would turn it down,” John said.

Carolyn said many of the people who were most likely going to purchase solar panels in Muncie have already done so, which has led to a lower interest of solar panels in recent months. However, John and Carolyn plan to branch out from Muncie, scheduling forums for Anderson, Alexandria, Centerville and Richmond, with one coming up in New Castle soon.

“It’s been kind of a fight. A lot of legislators don’t like solar because the big money is with the electric companies,” Carolyn said.

Carolyn said people need to educate themselves on environmental subjects like climate change and pollution to really garner an understanding of the importance of renewable energy like solar.

In 2015, Indiana was ranked eighth in coal production and third in coal consumption within the United States. Coal combustion can create carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and many other gases that tend to effect climate and environment.

“We have to do something now,” Carolyn said. “We can make it better.”

Contact Andrew Harp with comments at adharp@bsu.edu or on Twitter @adharp24.