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Ohio Amish Turn to Sun Power

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Ohio Amish Turn to Sun Power

Technology

Ohio Amish Turn to Sun Power

Ohio Amish Turn to Sun Power

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The Amish, widely known for adhering to low-tech traditions, are fueling a local boom in solar power in a community in Ohio. Solar panels are popping up as many decide to embrace a new, safer technology than their traditional natural gas and kerosene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Amish are not known for embracing modern life - quite the opposite. But when it comes to solar power, the Amish are turning out to be early technology adopters.

Fred Kight of member station WOUB at Athens, Ohio reports.

FRED KIGHT: This is Holmes County, an area in northeast Ohio that's home of the largest settlement of Amish in the world. Like their fellow Amish in other parts of the country, these Amish prefer the horse and buggy for getting around and use horses to pull their plows to work the fields.

(Soundbite of horses plowing)

KIGHT: But increasingly there's evidence of 21st century power here - solar panels appear on rooftops everywhere you look.

Eli Miller is Amish and sells solar equipment to his neighbors. He says about 80 percent of the Amish around here now use solar.

Mr. ELI MILLER (Solar Equipment Dealer): Well, for instance, it used to be like the wind would pump the water for the farm houses years and years ago, turning the windmills, and now of course it's a different way of getting power from the sun. I guess if you want to interpret it like that.

KIGHT: Jonathan Miller - no relation - is also Amish. He and his father own a furniture store in the town of Berlin that does a healthy solar sideline business.

Mr. JONATHAN MILLER (Furniture Store Owner): It's pretty aggressive right now. As far in the last five years, it's really been picking up among the Amish. They're learning what all they could do with it.

KIGHT: Miller says solar's popularity here has spread largely by word of mouth and convenience is a key factor. With a single two-feet-by-four-feet solar panel and an investment of less than a thousand dollars, there's enough energy to operate several lights, around 146 kilowatt hours a year.

(Soundbite of indistinct conversation)

KIGHT: Dairy farmer Owen Nesley(ph) belongs to the old order denomination and embraces the slow-paced Amish life, but he's enthusiastic about solar.

Mr. OWEN NESLEY (Dairy Farmer): What I really like is the renewable energy part. I'm out here doing my work and the sun is shining and I'm aware that juice is going into my batteries. Tonight I'll have it for my lighting at no cost other than, of course, the initial setup.

KIGHT: Another big bonus: having solar for lights greatly improves home safety.

Mr. NESLEY: This area, we have accepted that policy to use batteries and light. There were some issues with older people lighting the gaslights and having fires.

KIGHT: The Amish refuse to hook up to the power grid that serves other residents in this area who could never get by on a measly 146 kilowatt hours annually. With washing machines, televisions, microwaves and all the other appliances Amish shun - modern households need something like 100 times that amount of power.

To keep those appliances and enjoy the energy freedom many Amish now have, the typical homeowner would have to invest $20,000 in solar to live off the grid.

For NPR News, I'm Fred Kight in Athens, Ohio.

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