Photo caption: Patti and Mike arriving at their newly completed second home in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in April 2018 after a four-day road trip of 2300 miles.
Solar United Neighbors appreciates the major financial contribution made by Michael A. Mullett and Patricia N. March toward helping low-to-moderate-income families go solar through our 2020-2021 Indianapolis solar co-op. We’re honored to present this interview with Michael to spotlight their support of this project:
What inspired your donation toward helping low-to-moderate-income Indianapolis families go solar?
Michael A. Mullett: There were two considerations. First, my wife and I strongly believe that access to distributed solar should be available to all, irrespective of income, class, race or other demographic considerations — but it is simply NOT as available as it should be to low- and moderate-income households, especially those who reside in communities of color. This is due primarily to inadequate government and philanthropic financial support for distributed solar installations for the residences of low- and moderate-income households, be they resident-owned or rented, single-family or multi-family, or privately or publicly owned.
Second, my wife and I are fortunate to have financial resources which allow us to lead comfortable lives (including access to affordable distributed solar ourselves) and also to make modest but meaningful charitable donations to a wide variety of organizations and causes related to sustainable energy and climate action. Consequently, when we became aware that SUN’s Indianapolis “Go Solar” program in 2020 would include a component specifically designed to bring distributed solar to a number of low- and moderate-income households, including especially but not exclusively to households of color, we decided immediately to include SUN and this component of its Indianapolis “Go Solar” program in our 2020 charitable giving.
Tell us your story about how you became interested in solar power.
Michael A. Mullett: I was a founding member of what was then called the Citizens Energy Coalition (now the Citizens Action Coalition) when it was organized in 1974. Believe it or not, the Coalition was part of an organized effort in the late 1970s and early 1980s to develop and promote solar energy because the OPEC oil embargoes of 1974-75 had precipitated both a world-wide “Great Recession” and ominous threats of war. This was a critical conjunction which had led then-President Jimmy Carter to call in 1977 for a transformation of American energy policies and practices with a sense of urgency that was the “moral equivalent of war.” He highlighted that call with the installation of solar panels on the White House in 1979. See, e.g., https://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/solar-panels-and-the-white-house/. And, in what is truly in these days and times a “Believe-It-Or-Not” worthy of Ripley’s, the state of Indiana actually adopted several important pro-solar policies in the 1981 and 1982 sessions of the Indiana General Assembly that are still “on the books.” See, e.g., Ind. Code Section 36-7-2-8 Solar energy systems; ordinances; reasonable restrictions (as added by Acts 1981, P.L.311, SEC.2) and Ind. Code Section 8-1-2.4-1 Development of alternate energy production facilities; policy (as added by Acts 1982, P.L.72, SEC.1).
So, when my wife and I bought our first home together in 1984, we did what we could afford at that time to “practice what we preach,” which was to make our home so energy efficient that when it was inspected by a Duke Energy Indiana inspector 30 years later he told us that it was still “the most energy-efficient home of its style and vintage” (Queen Anne, frame, built between 1891 and 1893 by the widow of the first mayor of Columbus) he had ever inspected.” Then, in 2010, we installed on the roof of our replacement standalone garage (built a few years earlier with that purpose in mind) the largest solar PV system it would support and we could afford at the time (even though it cost $7.00 per watt). And, in 2016, we installed on the roof of our historic home in Columbus another solar PV system (again the largest which our seven-gabled roof would support, but now at a cost of less than $3.00 per watt) as part of the Columbus Community Solar Initiative, of which my wife and I are founding members and I was the first volunteer administrative coordinator. And, in 2018, when we built a second home in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Washington State, we installed on the roof of that new home as it was being constructed a solar PV system, which was large enough to make that house “net zero,” and configured it to be “battery ready.”
Please share why advancing the adoption of solar power is important to you.
Michael A. Mullett: My wife and I believe that human-induced climate change is an existential threat to life on planet Earth as we have known it, and we want our children and grandchildren and their progeny to at least the proverbial seven generations to know it as we have. In addition, I believe that monopoly utilities have become so powerful as to threaten the American system of free enterprise and popular democracy, at least here in Indiana. Distributed solar power is “people power” — something that individual households, businesses, non-profit organizations, and local government entities can do themselves to reduce both the existential threat of climate change and the economic and political power of utility monopolies.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about supporting Solar United Neighbors’ work?
Michael A. Mullett: Both through reading history and living my own life, I have learned and relearned the maxims that “from time immemorial, the only way that ordinary people have gotten anything is to organize” and that “power concedes nothing without a demand.” To avoid the most dire consequences of climate change, humanity needs distributed solar power to be adopted extraordinarily widely, quickly, and systematically by ordinary people in their everyday lives. Solar United Neighbors has shown conclusively that it knows how to organize ordinary people widely, quickly, and systematically to adopt solar power in their everyday lives and to make demands on those in political power to adopt public policies to facilitate and expedite that critical process. So, it is simple, practical logic to support SUN by participating in its solar projects, joining in its public policy advocacy actions, and contributing financially to its work as an organization which depends vitally on individual donations.