Living Lightly

Making Power While the Sun Shines


It may sound like a contradiction, but John Hazeltine likes to joke that he recently put expensive, environmentally friendly solar panels on his rooftop because he’s cheap.

While a home solar system can cost up to $45,000 to install, Hazeltine found a company that leases the panels, which reduces all or some of the upfront costs and also means the system is maintenance-free for the homeowner. “In eight months with SolarCity, I have saved $690 on my electricity bill,” says the former cowboy, past test pilot and Phoenix native.

In his case, he paid $4,800 upfront with a lease fee of $38 a month for 20 years, which is guaranteed not to increase—even as other energy costs rise. “I thought to myself, to make this worthwhile I will have to be able to recapture my investment within a reasonable amount of time,” he says. “And five years is reasonable.”

Save Money, Save Wildlife

Defenders of Wildlife is partnering with SolarCity to encourage the switch to solar energy and will receive a $400 donation for every Defenders member that installs a home solar system. SolarCity will install your system for free—you pay for electricity by the month, just like your utility bill but lower. 

Learn more and sign up  for a free consultation at

But the money he is saving is only part of the reason. In signing on with SolarCity, which currently installs systems in 14 states throughout the country and Washington, D.C., he ensures his energy footprint is no longer contributing to habitat destruction or pollution. His neighborhood—apart from the dozen or so residents who have also gone solar—draws energy from a nuclear power plant about 50 miles away. And while nuclear energy burns clean, “it’s not wholesome,” he says. “Pretty soon we’re going to have to realize that we’ve been getting a free ride for a long time, and pretty soon we’ll be paying the price. We just don’t know what it will be yet.” 

Homes that plug into oil- or coal-burning power plants, contribute to greenhouse gases that scientists say are causing climate change. Extracting fossil fuels is another problem in itself. Drilling for oil and natural gas puts wildlife, such as sage grouse, at risk on land, and offshore oil spills threaten many marine animals—including sea turtles, sea otters, dolphins and polar bears—and birds that nest along our shores.

Even renewable energy is harmful to wildlife when it’s done on a large scale. Hydroelectric power drains ecosystems of water and has decimated salmon runs and upstream forest ecosystems. Large-scale wind projects electrocute California condors and golden eagles when they fly into power lines. And fields of solar panels interfere with the movement of desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and other species.

“My power has absolutely no residual effect,” says Hazeltine. “The panels just sit there and produce energy from the sun. They don’t even produce noise.” 

Taking steps to improve what energy we use, how we use it, and how much of it we use does make a difference, says Defenders’ renewable energy expert Jim Lyons. “Reducing the need for new energy development by installing personal renewable energy systems and being more energy efficient really does help protect wildlife habitat from destructive energy sprawl,” he says. 

And that is what Hazeltine cares about most. For him, the money-savings just makes the move more of a no-brainer. “Energy conservation and animal care are the two most important things in my life,” he says. “I’m just trying not to screw up the world as much as possible while I’m here.”

—Heidi Ridgley

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