Award for Most Interesting Solar Incentive? Free Gun! Yeehaw!

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, progressives have wondered how to communicate the necessity for sustainable economies to a recalcitrant conservative element in this country.  Bland Solar and Air, of Bakersfield, California, may well have found the answer with their “Buy Solar.  Get a Gun.” campaign.

Bakersfield, in the conservative central valley of California (Kern County), is a region that is blessed with ample sunshine, much like the rest of California, but due to its location away from the coast, also has brutally hot summers and freezing winters.   Conditions drive many utility customers’ electricity bills through the roof.  Bland Solar offers a terrific alternative:  put solar panels on that roof, and drive electric costs down to almost zero.

Of course, the demographic of Bakersfield is not much like the demographic in San Francisco, where solar installations sell like hotcakes.  The conservative element in Kern County, like much of the conservative base in this country, does not necessarily believe in global warming, let alone buy carbon credits, organic food, or other “hippie” items like solar panels.

Enter Bland Solar’s innovative (and let’s face it, hilarious…hey, humor sells…) ad campaign.  Has it been effective?  Can other progressive businesses in conservative areas learn something from it?

Bland Solar & Air, with a 25 year history, and therefore deep roots in Kern County, may have an advantage of trust over many new, progressive businesses that pop up in conservative areas.  But the communication campaign Bland uses is effective.  They  focus on things that resonate with conservatives, like return on investment (ROI), and, well, free guns!

According to Scott Ryan, General Manager of Bland, the California Solar Initiative and the Federal tax credit are ‘Beyond huge’ in terms of the solar industry.  Between the two, the cost of a 4.5 kW rooftop system, installed, is roughly $13,000, about half of what it would be without those incentives.  Of course, these installations reduce the need of government to spend on public health programs to treat preventable illnesses caused by dirtier sources of power, let alone the need to handle nuclear waste, assure right-of-way for utility lines, contaminated groundwater, and fish that contain so much mercury (from coal emissions) that more than half of this nation’s rivers and lakes are deemed unsafe for consumption fishing.

The resulting payback period, by the way, is a very respectable 5-6 years for a grid-tied solar installation.

Assembly Bill 811, which passed in California a few years ago, is expected to be put into action in Kern County this summer.  AB 811 allows homeowners to finance the upfront costs of solar systems by increasing their property taxes marginally each month as opposed to having to be able to come up with the entire cost of the unit up front.

Bland Solar also teaches installation procedures to other contractors throughout the state of California, and can do so regardless of a contractor’s ability to pay.  Through this program, Bland helps assure quality installations and uniformity in the industry.  More on this in a future article, but you can also read more at www.solarseminars.org.

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Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that communications campaigns of green businesses can continue to erode the iron will of some conservatives to oppose progress.

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.