A house on Hatteras is outfitted in solar panels. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Lester Crafton

After my first visit to Ocracoke for the Health Center’s Seafood Festival Labor Day weekend, I left with a distinct thought: Ocracoke has it all–fine folks, enchanting establishments, sumptuous seafood, breathtaking beaches.  

In the words of Tom Bodette from Motel Six, Ocracoke is the type of community who will “leave the lights on for you.” 

And for folks so willing to leave the lights on for others, it seemed like a cruel fate when Hurricane Dorian shut off the lights the weekend after my first visit. 

Luckily, there’s a way to create electricity using a source that even a hurricane can only block for a short period of time–the sun–to make sure the lights on Ocracoke never go off again.

Steam power/solar power
As the co-founder of an initiative that gives money to organizations in local communities when their supporters explore the benefits of transitioning to solar, my team and I have spoken with many folks about how their electricity is currently made.

Electricity is made from steam. 

Natural gas, coal and nuclear power are just different versions of the same thing: ways to make enough heat to boil water that makes steam, which spin a turbine to turn big magnets through copper to wake up the electricity that is shipped to your house.

With solar energy there is nothing to burn and there are no atoms to split in order to generate steam. There is nothing that spins and breaks. Solar equipment sits there and converts free sunlight into clean electricity for decades. 

Reclaiming an Ocracoke tradition
In 1936, when Stanley Wahab installed a salvaged generator in his hotel, the lights came on in Ocracoke for the first time.

All of Ocracoke’s electricity was created locally until 30 years later when electric cables were attached to the Oregon Inlet bridge and laid under Hatteras Inlet. 

Embracing solar energy would be a way for Ocracoke to reclaim her energy-independent past (without the noise from generators) while embracing a cleaner, more resilient future. 

Is solar expensive?
Equipment that turns free sunlight into electricity isn’t new, and it used to be very expensive.

Transitioning to solar is like buying a home with a mortgage instead of renting the place where you live.

Solar equipment allows you to make electricity for yourself and therefore not have to pay other people to make it for you.

By purchasing solar equipment, the money you don’t send to the electric company each month can go toward paying off your solar equipment.

A solar electricity system creates value for the owner while it’s being paid off and after it is owned free-and-clear. 

If you can afford to pay a monthly electricity bill, which is spent once and gone forever, you can afford the payment for solar equipment, which makes the same electricity from free sunlight on your property.

The building at the Ocracoke airport may be the only island building with solar panels. Photo: C. Leinbach

Ocracoke’s unique situation
Unlike large electric providers–and most of the country–Tideland EMC doesn’t allow net-metering. 

Net-metering means that when you go solar, you stay connected to the grid and receive a credit for every unit of electricity your system produces during the day that you don’t use immediately. Then you cash in the credit at night when the sun isn’t shining.  

In other words, “One unit of electricity produced that I don’t use as it is produced equals one unit of electricity produced by the electricity company I can use at night when I need it.” 

But Tideland doesn’t do “one-in/one-out” net-metering. Instead, they buy any electricity your system produces that you don’t use immediately at a wholesale price.

Then you buy it back from them at night at the retail price. So, essentially, you receive full retail price for the electricity you create and use immediately because you aren’t paying an electric company to make it. If you over-produce, you receive a wholesale payment, which is essentially a discount on your bill for the energy you consume. 

What this means for you is:

  • It takes a little longer to recover the cost of your system since the system’s monetary value is based on the electricity produced that you don’t have to pay someone else to make.  When will you recover the cost of paying your normal electric bill? Longer is better than never. 
  • As a community, you can petition Tideland EMC to update its net-metering policy to align with most of the nation. 
  • You can store your own power with a battery and use it when you’d like. 

Solar always makes sense, but on Ocracoke, for resiliency purposes, having a battery system makes all the sense in the world.  Battery prices have also fallen dramatically in recent years. 

Why go solar?
Making electricity from free sunlight is better for the planet, better after hurricanes and always saves money eventually while being available and affordable immediately.

We’ve made the process as simple as we can, and we’d love to support the fine folks on Ocracoke when you explore the benefits of transitioning to solar.

Lester Crafton works for Ovanova, which is a free service used by causes and organizations to raise money and increase solar energy awareness within their communities of supporters. For information, click this link: www.ovanova.co


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  1. We are Green Island Builders David and Christine Wade and we installed the solar panels featured in the first picture here on Hatteras Island .While living in Buxton during NCs tax rebate program we promoted solar & installed 8 private home solar projects . We are now part of Climate to Thrive in Maine a group of green power enthusiasts promoting solar installing on municipalities etc. here on Mount Desert Island .Goal is impressive to achieve energy independence by 2030 as an example to other communities . Check us out https://www.aclimatetothrive.org/

    • Would like to add to my post at the end Think of Chernobyl and 3 mile island nuclear is not clean.

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