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My solar panel is bigger than yours

ARIZONA AND THE NATION

It is puzzling, perhaps, that solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. The cost of solar panels continues to drop, and canny utilities have begun to welcome the new power source as a way to stave off building astronomically expensive new power plants. Yet most homeowners resist going solar, uneasily weighing the big hit of buying and installing a solar array against the immediate lower monthly costs for electricity. To push people over that hump of uncertainty and inaction, solar coaches from nonprofits and utilities are rolling out the Tupperware model in Arizona communities, where they're meeting with surprising success. The coffee-klatch path was blazed decades ago when the Tupperware company asked enthusiastic customers to host home parties. And "just as Tupperware failed to fly off store shelves without a sales person showing customers how to work the airtight seal," reports The New York Times, "solar panels often require demonstration and explanation to make the sale." People making referrals also earn money -- $400 from companies like SolarCity; $250 from SolarParty.Org. Pebble Creek, Ariz., a gated community of 6,000 homes, now boasts that 10 percent of its residents have gone solar, with more jumping on board all the time. It's all about getting referrals from people you trust, learning exactly how efficient solar energy can be from somebody you know, and perhaps even some old-fashioned one-upmanship. "People brag that 'I have the biggest solar system in the community,' " says Pebble Creek resident Dru Bacon. "They don't say, 'I have the lowest electric bill.' "

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NEVADA: Well, there's always the airport bar. Courtesy Stephanie Paige Ogburn.

From our friends

HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor

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Barbara Ellis, Denver Post News Editor