Tuesday, May 24 , 2016, 4:44 pm | Fair 65º

Santa Barbara Couple Reaping the Benefits of Driving on Sunshine

By Jefferson Litten for the Community Environmental Council |

From his parents, Gilbert Robledo inherited the ethic of living with a small footprint. In their Santa Barbara Mesa backyard, Robledo’s parents planted a large garden and a small fruit orchard so they would no longer have to buy fruits and vegetables shipped from hundreds of miles away. Robledo fondly remembers childhood meals cooked with homegrown vegetables.

Robledo and his wife, Joy, have since inherited the home and continue to manage it sustainably. They still tend the garden and fruit trees, maintain three compost bins, run an energy-efficient home and consider the environment in all of their decisions.

Adding solar panels to the home naturally appealed to the the couple’s environmental mindset, but when they first looked at solar they found it too pricey. Several years later, when the Robledos heard about discounted pricing through the Community Environmental Council’s Solarize Santa Barbara program, the timing and the price were finally right.

Gilbert Robledo had recently seen an intriguing video about a New Jersey gentlemen who was “driving on sunshine” — powering his electric vehicle with electricity from solar panels on his home — so when they met with their solar consultant, the Robledos designed a system capable of powering both their home and an electric vehicle.   

The Robledos have now been driving on sunshine for over three years, and they couldn’t be happier with their decision. The all-electric Nissan Leaf meets virtually all of their transportation needs; Joy often commutes to Ventura, where she charges the Leaf at one of the many public charging stations. The Robledos still keep their trusty gas-powered pickup truck, mostly so that Gilbert can move large loads as a volunteer for the Foodbank and Veterans for Peace. However, Gilbert notes that before their Nissan Leaf, they would spend more than $100 filling up the car a couple of times a month.

“But now we just fill up the truck once every four or five months,” he said.

Through smart planning, efficiency and conservation, the Robledos have been able to maximize the benefits that their modestly sized 2.4 kW solar array provides. The Robledos’ home features highly efficient Energy Star appliances, and they work to turn off unnecessary lights. Gilbert and Joy switched their billing structure to a time-of-use rate, and now they charge their Leaf from 3 to 6 a.m., when energy is steeply discounted by the utilities. Through all these measures, the Robledos’ annual electrical bill is just $200, an astonishingly low number when you consider that that figure includes the family’s transportation fuel expense.

Gilbert and Joy couldn’t be happier with their decision to start driving on sunshine.

“We are saving lots of money and we made a decision that really impacts the environment positively," Gilbert said. "I hope my grandchildren will be able to reap the benefits of our decision to go solar.”

— Jefferson Litten is the Solarize Santa Barbara program coordinator for the Community Environmental Council.

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