HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Mike Beahm used to have muscle cars parked in his driveway.
Now, he has an electric car tethered to a charging station that's partially powered by solar panels.
It's a drastic change from the days when Beahm owned a 1967 Pontiac GTO or a 2003 Corvette, which he traded in two years ago for a 2012 Chevy Volt.
"I remember the car dealer looked at me and said, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" Beahm says. "I guess I've had a change of heart or a realization that I can't be selfish with our resources just to have fun."
That change of heart has led Beahm to install 12 solar panels in the backyard of his Locust Street home in the Southeast Hills area of Huntington. He purchased and installed the first two panels seven years ago, becoming American Electric Power's third residential customer in West Virginia to fuse solar power with its electrical grid. He added 10 additional panels last year and wants to install more in the near future.
An instrument wired to the solar panels converts the DC current they produce into AC current so the electricity can be routed to his home. A special meter on the side of Beahm's house runs backward when the solar panels are producing electricity and forward at night.
"For every kilowatt hour that I put into the grid, they give me credit for one kilowatt hour," Beahm said. "So at nighttime, the electricity I produce during the day I get back."
Weather, and specifically clouds, dictates the electrical output of Beahm's panels, which he can monitor and generate daily readings from online. His electric bill can be as low as $17 on good months and as high as $125 on cloudy months during the summer when the air conditioner is running.
With the tax incentives Beahm received when he purchased the solar panels, they should pay for themselves over a 12- to 15-year period, he said. But he also notes he installed them on his own, which cut costs.
"I don't think you can necessarily just look at doing it from a cost-justification standpoint," Beahm said. "You have to be emotionally tied to why you are doing it as well."
Beam, 55, owns High Performance Heat Treating, a metals-service business, in Huntington. A mechanical and electrical engineer, he says he's always loved side projects that allow him to use his talents. A few years ago, he and some friends converted a 1989 Ford Festiva to run on seven 12volt batteries. The vehicle could travel about 15 miles with a top speed of 45 miles per hour on a full charge.
Beahm said his motivation to purchase solar panels originally stemmed from a desire to relieve himself and others from the dependence on foreign oil. After he became a grandfather, he said he wanted to do his part to make sure his grandchildren don't have to worry about dwindling resources in the future.
"Having kids and grandkids really put it all in perspective. I would love to have muscle cars and play with them, but I feel I have a greater responsibility toward future generations. The more people there are like me who try this, the more cost-effective it becomes over time and the stronger the infrastructure becomes."
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com