Go Solar!

Save money.  Save the planet. Become energy independent. Now is the time to Go Solar!

Solar electricity is a great return on investment! Solar electric system costs have come down dramatically.  There are federal tax credits and commercial depreciation benefits. There is an immediate and reliable return on investment.  Even financing is available, enabling no up-front costs.  Agricultural solar applications can obtain grants and loans from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program (USDA REAP).

A solar electric system tied into the electric utility grid (your electricity provider) allows the best of both worlds: cheap solar energy, back-up by the utility grid, and utility payback for excess electricity generated by your solar power system fed back into the grid.  A battery storage system can provide independence from the utility power grid, thereby preventing power interruption during extreme weather events or other chaotic incidents.

Battery storage technology, as well as solar panel technology, has evolved and improved.  The array of solar-powered and energy-efficient products has greatly expanded.  Ductless AC/heat systems. Efficient refrigerator-freezers that run on direct current.  Hot water heaters that use heat pump technology.  Solar swimming pool heaters. Solar well irrigation systems.  Solar pond aeration. Efficient light emitting diode (LED) lighting systems. Solar window screens. Electric cars, car chargers, and carports with solar panels. And more!

The cost of solar panels has plummeted.  The average wholesale panel price was approximately $23 per watt in 1980, around $4 per watt in the year 2000, and less than $1 per watt in 2012.  Approximately one third to one quarter of the cost of a solar system is the panel price. Federal tax law provides for a tax credit of 30% of the cost of the solar system.  And for commercial applications, the solar system cost can be depreciated over five years. So, if you’re in the 30% tax bracket, you’ll save 30% of the system cost over five years. The return on investment is substantial and dependable, unlike the Stock Market! If electricity utility rates rise, this return on investment is even higher. And, after paying off the asset, you will enjoy decades of free electricity.  Solar systems come with a 25-year warranty, but last even longer. For agricultural solar applicants, the USDA REAP can provide grants up to 25% of total eligible project costs and additional low-interest loans loans for 50% of the project cost.

Solar systems that tie-in to the electric utility grid enable reverse metering credit – when the solar system is generating more electricity than is being consumed, the excess electricity is fed back into the utility grid and the owner is given financial credit for that supplied electricity.  Some solar systems instead have a battery and the excess electricity is stored, and can then be used during the night or during times of electric utility grid outage.  And, some solar systems are a combination of grid tie-in and battery storage, or a hybrid system.  Battery technology has evolved providing more options considering price, efficiency, weight, and capabilities.   Battery options range from lead-acid batteries, to lithium ion batteries, to lithium iron phosphate batteries with smart electronics enabling automated appliance management.  Batteries convert electrical energy into chemical energy when charging and vice versa when discharging.  Lead-acid batteries are most common. Several lead-acid batteries are typically required: they are interconnected, and called a battery bank. Lithium ion batteries are lighter in weight, have a much longer life span, and require less maintenance.  Lithium iron phosphate batteries now enable facility electricity load management with remote control and monitoring.  This can be very important in reducing electricity costs due to demand charges, and optimizing use of the stored electricity.

Solar photovoltaic panels are comprised of cells that convert the sun’s radiation into direct current electricity. An inverter converts the direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). Your household electrical plugs provide AC power.  Alternating current is the best way to transmit electricity over large distances.  However, several appliances are now available in DC, which may be five times more efficient than a comparable AC appliance.

Energy efficiency should be a first consideration, or in conjunction with switching to solar energy.  Energy efficiency is “using less energy to provide the same service”. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the twin pillars of sustainable energy policy. There are often many opportunities for reducing your amount of electricity use by implementing energy efficiency.  This may include attic or roof insulation, window replacement or door sealing, solar window screens, switching to more efficient heat and air conditioning systems, efficient hot water systems, efficient better thermostat management, and efficient appliances and lights. Conversion of lighting from conventional incandescent bulbs to fluorescent or LED bulbs not only reduces electrical demands of the lights, but also reduces the amount of heat that is generated by conventional bulbs, thereby reducing air conditioning electrical demands. Solar swimming pool heater systems can reduce the use of electricity or natural gas.

Energy efficiency and solar energy can save you money, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into our planet’s atmosphere, that is causing climate change and sea level rise.  Solar energy in combination with a storage battery system can provide energy independence. Please don’t wait – Go Solar!

Bart Bibler
Simpler Solar Systems LLC
(850) 576-5271 office
(850) 570-8165 cell

Your purchase of a Simpler Solar System described here will result in a generous donation to FWF by the Company, which will provide you with a Life membership in the Florida Wildlife Federation.


 “Written by Claudia Farren with assistance from Bill Boothe of Nature in Focus.” 

Flower pollinators are in decline. The loss of honeybees around the world due to pests, disease, loss of habitat, pesticides, and changing weather patterns has been widely publicized in the last few years. Native bees and other pollinators are also in decline.

Pollinators are a keystone species group; the persistence of a large number of other species depends upon them. As pollinators disappear, the effect on the health and viability of crops and native plant communities can be disastrous. – Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Pollen allows plants to reproduce by germinating seeds. Wind, humans, and other animals such as bees, butterflies, beetles, moths, and some birds  move pollen within a plant (self-pollination—anther and pistil are from the same plant, but not always from the same flower) or between plants (cross-pollination). Pollinators assist flowering plants while in turn the plants provide food for pollinators and their offspring.

What is Pollen?

Pollen is the male sex particles of plants containing protein, vitamins, steroids, lipids and minerals. Not only does it fertilize flowers but also provides food to the eggs [ovule]. Pollen is disseminated by insects, wind, birds, mammals and water.

RAGWEED POLLEN. 4000x. DARTMOUTH ELECTRON MICROSCOPE FACILITY.  Like most grasses ragweed pollen is dispersed to other ragweed plants by wind.

COLORIZED POLLEN. A RETOUCHED PICTURE FROM DARTMOUTH ELECTRON MICROSCOPE FACILITY.  This photo shows pollen from a variety of common plants: sunflower, lily, primrose, morning glory (the big green one in the middle), and castor bean.

Pollination is the transference of pollen from the anthers of one flower to the stigma of another. In flowering plants the stigma is on the end of the pistil. Once pollen is transferred to the stigma, it travels down the pistil to the ovule where fertilization takes place and seeds are produced.
We usually think of insects such as bees and butterflies when we think of pollination, but beetles, hummingbirds, moths, some wasps and flies, and even humans are also important in pollen dispersion.
SCARAB BEETLE ON A PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS. Scarab beetles are found throughout the world except for Antarctica. Some common ones are the June bug, the Japanese beetle and the dung beetle. Often brown or black in color, tropical varieties can be iridescent or have a metallic sheen like this one above.
BEETLE ON ASHE MAGNOLIA. Beetles are the largest order of insects with over 350,000 species. This one—on an Ashe magnolia flower—is covered with pollen. The Ashe magnolia grows well in northern Florida. It is a small tree with big flowers and big leaves and has a sweet smell –all excellent attractants to pollinators. 
TWIN-SPOT SKIPPER ON IRIS. Pollinators are attracted through odor, shape, color, and arrangement of the flowers.  
HELICONID BUTTERFLY WITH POLLEN ON PROBOSCIS. In invertebrates, a proboscis is an elongated tubular mouthpart used for piercing or sucking food. During feeding, it is extended to reach the nectar of flowers. When not in use it is coiled under the head.
MONARCH BUTTERFLY ON PURPLE THISTLE. This monarch butterfly is using its proboscis to extract nectar from a thistle. The thistle plant attracts many pollinators including butterflies and hummingbirds.
HONEYBEE INSIDE BUTTERFLY PEA. Worker honey bees—non-reproductive females—are specialized for pollen and nectar collection. Their hind legs have a pollen basket that can carry large amounts of pollen back to the colony. European honey bees (not native to the U.S.) are social bees, meaning they share the work of building a nest and caring for the offspring. The principle social bees in the Americas are the honey bee and the bumble bee (native).
“About 75 percent of all flowering plants on Earth rely on animals to transfer their pollen, that makes about one in every three bites you eat,” says Kristen Potter, an insect physiologist at Northern Arizona University. “In fact, bees are so important to flowering crops that captive honeybees are sometimes driven from crop to crop at different times of the year to help pollinate plants around the country. However, due to a number of factors such as disease, habitat loss, and pesticides, bee colonies are currently on the decline. Both feral and captive bees have been threatened by these issues, but this is why the native bee species are especially important.”
There are around 4,000 species of native bees in North America, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “They have been maintaining flora diversity of North America for thousands to millions of years, and they’re essential to continuing that,” says Rich Hatfield, conservation biologist with the Xerces Society.
 BEE ON BARTRAM’S IXIA. Some of Florida’s native bees are digger bees, sweat bees, plasterer bees, leafcutter bees, bumble bees, cuckoo bees and carpenter bees. Carpenter bees are one of Florida’s major pollinators in wild and urban habitats. Most native bees are unlikely to sting unless disturbed, grabbed, or stepped on
NATIVE BEE ON BARTRAM’S IXIA_2, ULTRAVIOLET VIEW. Many flying insects are attracted to ultraviolet light. Some flowers use UV light as a “come hither beacon.”  In this photo a bee is on top of an anther.
DIGGER BEE ON RAYLESS SUNFLOWER. The females rear their young in soil tunnels underground often close to one another, but have no social structure like honeybees. In a “colony” that sometimes number in the hundreds, each female digs out nest cells and collects pollen for her young. Digger bees visit a wide variety of flowers and are important in pollination.

What you can do to help pollinators:

  1. Plant a pollinator garden of native flowering plants with blooms of varying shapes, colors, and sizes. Have something that blooms every month of the year, not just spring and fall.
  2. Plant native host and nectar plants for butterflies from the aster family, pea family, various passion vines, and the milkweed family. Some of Florida’s native milkweed host plants for monarch butterflies include: Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), A. perennis (aquatic milkweed), and A. tuberosa (butterfly weed).
  3. Don’t use pesticides and herbicides.
  4. Provide nesting sites with bundles of hollow plant stems or PVC pipe in a sheltered area of your garden. Make a brush pile in your yard and leave old tree stumps and dead trees on your property. Do remove hazardous snags.
  5. Provide a water source. For butterflies and bees place rocks or sand in a bird-bath bowl that is placed on the ground.
  6. Sponsor or attend a pollinator workshop in your area. Spread the word!

If you would like to get a workshop going in the Panhandle please contact Bill or Marcia Boothe at (850) 643-2583. If you are in another area of Florida contact your local NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) office at:  http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/fl/contact/

More valuable information on invertebrate protection is at: http://www.xerces.org. Also an excellent source is the book Planting a Refuge for Wildlife – Creating a Backyard Habitat for Florida’s Native Animals.

Thank you to Bill and Marcia Boothe of Nature in Focus for the photos and also the title of this article. Their website is at http://NatureInFocus.com . A direct link to their butterfly and skipper photos is at http://natureinfocus.com/galleries/butterflies/ .

More pollen photos: http://remf.dartmouth.edu/pollen2/pollen_images_3/index.html

Colorized pollen photos: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Misc_pollen_colorized.jpg

Pollination Graphics: http://www.blog.gurukpo.com/pollination; http://corporate.britannica.com/pollination and http://corporate.britannica.com/termsofuse.html


More information on native milkweeds can be found at www.monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/milkweed/milkweed-profiles.


Article sources: http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/4DMG/Pests/diggers.htm; http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/MISC/BEES/euro_honey_bee.htm; http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/scarab/; http://www.floridata.com/ref/m/magn_mac_ash.cfm ; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/467948/pollination






Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge Marsh Photography Project


Edited by Claudia Farren, Comments Under Photos are by Charles O. Slavens

This photo montage comes from Charles O. Slavens who lives near the Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge located in western Palm Beach County. These images are frame grabs from several videos featuring fish and wildlife in the refuge. The captions are his own observations from long hours of filming. His work on the project started in November of 2013 and is on-going.


“The camera is near the bottom of the pond looking straight up. The small fish are most likely bluegills, who often follow gators hoping they will stir up some food.”


“A bluegill following an alligator.”


“In the background, on the right, is an anhinga, which is high on the list of water creatures I want to capture in video. When they travel through a school of fish they appear to be surrounded by a force field about two feet across. I’m assuming that the fish have set that as just outside the strike zone.”


“A bluegill near the surface on a sunny day.”


When the blue tilapia cruise through the area they follow generally repeated routes. Here I placed the camera in a pathway on the bottom looking upward.” (Blue tilapia, nonnative, are found throughout Florida.)


“This is a bullhead (catfish), which is usually near the bottom. I placed the camera in a narrow pathway and pointed it upward. This was during a period of little rainfall and the water level was very low, which makes it very cloudy.”


“A largemouth bass. The perspective is exaggerated because of the wide angle lens. It’s rare for one of these guys to get this close to the camera as they tend to lay back and watch the activity. I’ve witnessed only one attempt by one of them to grab another fish . . . the fish got away.”


“Kind of rare for a shiner to get this close to the camera. They’re fast swimmers and are not interested, unlike the bluegills who routinely bump up against the lens.”


“The sunfish here also is not all that interested in the camera and tends to hang back.”


This is a juvenile sunfish. I’m interested in the entire life cycle of these critters and do a lot of my photography in shallow areas that I call the nursery. If he wandered out another 20 feet into the pond he’d make a nice snack for a largemouth bass.”


“Florida softshell turtle.”


Biography of Charles O. Slavens:

I bought a camera in a pawn shop while stationed in the Army in Texas where they had a darkroom on the base. I’m completely self-taught. I bought 100-foot rolls of black-and-white film and loaded my own film cassettes. I devised little photo projects wherever I  happened to be stationed. I didn’t know it at the time but I was developing an eye for street photography, which remains a major interest. Some of the photos I shot during that period are still part of my portfolio.

When I got out of the Army in San Francisco I drove across country to New York City to pursue a career in photography. Photographically, it looked like the most exciting stuff happening in the big city was in fashion.

As a fashion photographer’s assistant, when I wasn’t on the set, I was in the darkroom learning and perfecting various printing techniques and refining my sense of composition. After a while, I began to see that the culture surrounding the fashion industry was not where I wanted to be. While still at the studio I took film production courses at NYU and switched over to filmmaking. I worked for various film producers as a cameraman/editor and eventually began soliciting my own clients.

Today, I’m retired and do photo and video projects about subjects that interest me. I went digital and started shooting wildlife and nature shortly after I moved to Florida in 2004. I like to zero in on a subject and examine its habits in detail and I prefer shooting in areas that are not heavily trafficked by people just out for a walk.

The Video Project:

The fish video idea first popped up in November 2013 and it is on-going. We’ve all seen tons of footage about life in the sea with oceanic fish swimming in crystal-clear water. The problems facing a photographer in a marsh-water system are different.

Because there’s not a fast moving current, any debris that is kicked up does not quickly go away. So, you have to find another way to put your camera in the water. Over the last several months I’ve developed various rigs for doing that.

The other problem is that you cannot see what is in the camera frame. I’m using a GoPro which has a wide angle lens. In addition, you cannot judge reliably from above the surface what might be in front of the camera. So, I just turn the camera on and leave it on for various periods of time. The camera’s position in the water and the direction in which it may be pointed will be determined by which fish I’m tracking at that time.

The fish still photos [seen above] are low resolution video frame grabs. This camera is shooting at about 1/30 of a second, which is very slow for stills. When making these little photos I try to compensate for the inherent focus problems by processing the frames in Photoshop. In the video they’ll seem to be in focus because of the nature of “persistence of vision”.

The water in the swamp is heavy with particulate matter, most of which you can’t see. This is deceiving because it looks clear from above the surface. But all that invisible stuff changes the color temperature of the water drastically and the deeper you go the more monochromatic your scenes become. Depending upon the location, depth and weather, the scenery can look like black-and-white film that’s been dyed greenish-yellow.

You’ll get more Audubon-like images if you shoot with the sun behind you. The dramatic stuff comes from the sun behind the subject . . . just like above the water . . . same rules apply.

I hope to finish my fish videos by the end of summer.

Below are links to other video projects. I think there are about eight (8) nature video and some other videos on different topics. I think VIMEO is probably the least cluttered. If the links don’t take you directly to my page, just Google, in quotes: “Charles O.Slavens”.