For most people considering solar, meeting with a Solar Connection energy consultant is their first direct exposure to the technology. That was not the case for Michael Wojcik.
“I went to the University of North Dakota and was part of a team that built a solar vehicle that raced down the Eastern seaboard. I’m a fanboy, I guess you could say.”
UND was one of several universities that engaged in this solar car competition.
“The technology was a lot less mature then than it is now. The biggest difference is that you’re not grid-attached like a house, so you’re running off of batteries. Of course, think back to 15 or 20 years ago and battery technology was not where it’s at today. But the car made it.”
However, Michael’s real motives for going solar go back even further.
“I’m a life-long environmentalist. I grew up in Northern Minnesota and we do a lot of stuff outdoors there.” Today, he’s still an avid cyclist and backpacker. He’s also a father of two and has made a habit of thinking long-term, one of the hallmarks of his term as city councilman for Ward 2. “So I do my part to contribute to clean energy.”
Beyond even his love for the technology and the environment, Michael appreciates the economics of solar.
“I have an MBA from the Carlson School of Management and my life is finance, so evaluating the return on investment wasn’t an issue. I can analyze this like any other investment, and what I tell people is yes, there’s an upfront cost to it, but this is the equivalent of putting granite countertops in your home if those granite countertops wrote you a check every single month forever.
“It adds value to the home. I get an electricity bill that is essentially negative every month of the year and that’s kind of nice.”
Michael and Lisa didn’t have to be approached about their home’s solar potential; it was part of the plan.
“When we built the house, we oriented the garage to be south-facing at the appropriate pitch for this part of Minnesota. When we first built the house, we just didn’t have the money, but eventually we decided it was time to take the plunge. We did it, and we’re really happy we did.”
Rochester’s only solar contractor, Solar Connection was an equally obvious choice.
“I always try and find local businesses for what I do, and Solar Connection has been absolutely wonderful to work with. They came out and evaluated our site, which we assumed would be pretty good since we built it that way, and it turned out it was. I really appreciated working with both of them. They’ve been fantastic throughout the process.”
As with all of Solar Connection’s customers, the relationship has extended years beyond installation.
“Every now and then I have questions and I’ll run into someone from Solar Connection somewhere and we’ll sit down and chat about how it’s going and what I’m seeing. What’s really interesting is we’re both always learning because residential solar in this area is still a little bit of a new technology. It’s not wide-spread. So it’s fascinating to see what we projected for the amount of solar we’d get versus what we’re actually getting. We’re still tracking that and we’re at or ahead of where we had hoped to be.”
All he has learned from the experience has served him well in his community outreach.
“What’s really interesting is that the solar panels, as much as they are a great utility item and cost-saving measure, there’s a lot of interest from the community, too. When they see the panels and how nicely they fit on the roof, I get lots of questions about it. Interested kids who will want to see how the system works. There are a lot of folks for whom I’ve become their defacto resource on solar energy. I also serve on the Board of Directors for Rochester Public Utilities here in town, so I get see that side of the solar business as well.”
While Michael was the family’s point-person for the installation, Lisa was behind it 100%.
“I was for it the whole time,” she said. “It was a big deal to him and to me it just seemed like a no-brainer. We save money and get solar panels at the same time.”
As for the payback?
“They’re already paid off and essentially just saving us money every month, and will for the next 30 years.”
And what do they plan to do with the tens of thousands of dollars they’ll save?
“We’ve got two girls who I think will take care of that pretty well.”