Q&A: Clean Energy Generation Member Kathie Sutherland

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy sat down with Floridian Kathie Sutherland to learn more about why she is part of the Clean Energy Generation making strides against the climate crisis.

Reed Winckler | July 13, 2023 | Clean Energy Generation, Clean Transportation, Energy Efficiency, Florida

Floridian Kathie Sutherland is one of the 70% of Americans who are worried about the increase of extreme climate events and who support a transition to clean energy as a solution to the climate crisis. Though Kathie owns an electric vehicle and has had solar panels on her home for nearly 30 years, she has only recently been able to fully devote herself to advocating for clean energy. Already a SACE member, Kathy heard about SACE’s Clean Energy Generation movement through an email and clicked the “Count Me In” button, solidifying her role as part of the Clean Energy Generation. Read on to learn more about why Kathie joined with her granddaughter’s future in mind.

First, tell us more about why you decided to join the Clean Energy Generation. 

I really have become much more of an activist around the area of clean energy since I retired. I was a physician when I was working in California, and so I didn’t have a lot of time, but I was very concerned with health and health issues. 

I wasn’t as focused on how climate issues affect health issues when I was practicing, but you notice how on days where the air quality is bad, people have trouble with asthma and breathing. There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that people’s health, especially pulmonary diseases and asthma, is very much tied to air quality, and air quality is very much tied to greenhouse gas emissions.

Since I retired, it has become more obvious to me that health and health issues are very much based on climate issues, as well as on a lot of the social justice issues, in terms of environmental justice, that we’re facing right now. So, I just became more interested in becoming involved in those areas. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the population doesn’t see the environment and clean energy as being top of their concern list, but it should be. Lives will change dramatically once we get to that tipping point, and in many cases, they already have. I mean, how many people have died from natural disasters? And so I think you have to start somewhere in trying to do your part against that. And so that’s why I clicked the button. 

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I’ll be long gone in 50 years, or a lot shorter than that. But it’s really my granddaughter and my children who are going to bear the brunt of the problems. So it’s really, you might say, for them, that I want to make changes or that I want to see changes made.

Kathie Sutherland with a Dahoon Holly tree she planted in her central Florida community. The tree can grow to 30-feet tall to provide shade and increase CO2 sequestration.

How did you first get involved in clean energy advocacy after retiring? 

I initially became politically active, and here in Florida, I found you could put in a lot of time and energy and effort and get very little back for your political efforts. I think if we can educate and advocate for environmental policies, perhaps the political will follow that. 

I also see this as a huge opportunity right now because of the passage of the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act] and the BIL [Bipartisan Infrastructure Law]. I think it’s really important to get the word out and to get the money that was put into those bills out to the places it’s meant to go: individuals and nonprofits and city governments. I feel like there’s an urgency about acting on this and getting people to act on it. And one of the first steps is education, and letting them know about what’s available. 

Can you elaborate on any experience you have saving money by switching over to an EV or other clean energy upgrades?

My car to me is a really good example of how powerful [the IRA and BIL] legislation is. I have a 2020 Tesla. I bought it in 2021, and it was used. And one of the reasons I did that was because I wanted to make the switch to an electric vehicle and there was a waiting period of one to two years at that time for new Teslas. 

The savings on maintenance are considerable because there’s virtually no maintenance; I’ve had the car for two years and done no maintenance. And I have the Tesla app that actually shows me how much money I’m saving on fuel. It is something that Tesla calculates, and they base it on the cost per kilowatt hour in your area versus the cost of gas in your area, in a car getting about 30 miles per hour. 

What I spent on power last year was $715, and the gas equivalent would have been $1,363. And this is, if anything, an underestimation because in some places I actually charge for free. It’s amazing the number of parks and things where I can just plug into a regular 110v outlet and charge.

One of the things I do is go to EV shows, where I show my car. I also organize them and work with a local clean energy committee called the EV Outreach Committee, where we organize our own EV shows. At the last one, there was a woman who had a Model 3 Tesla, just like me, and I talked to her about getting her car. She ordered it and received it in 10 days, showing the supply chain is now much better. It just kind of shows the power of if you want to buy an electric vehicle, this is the time to do it. 

Tesla has significantly lowered their prices. They lowered the price on this car when she bought it, and she gets a $7,500 rebate. So, she has a brand new 2023 Tesla for $32,500. 

Kathie with her Model 3 Tesla.

Same goes for solar panels and energy efficiency and increasing insulation on your home and putting in better doors and windows – I mean, the list goes on and on. The incentives are out there and people save money by being energy efficient. I think that’s what they worry about is well, how long is it going to take me to get my original investment back? Well, because of IRA and BIL, it doesn’t take as long as it used to. 

Garage insulation that Kathie put up herself in her home in central Florida.

Is there anything about your personal clean energy journey that you wish you’d known earlier or would’ve done differently? 

I used to live in California, and I only moved to Florida to retire. In California we had solar panels that way more than paid for themselves; we had them for 25 years or so. Then when we moved here, my husband and I put solar panels on that home. About a couple of years ago I got divorced and moved. I wanted to put solar panels on this home, and so I did. 

I don’t have a battery to store energy for another time like some people do, so I wanted the number of solar panels that equals the electricity I’m using to cover just enough for my energy utilization. As it stands right now with my panels, I actually make more electricity that I use. This is because I installed my panels before I really made my home energy efficient – before I tinted the windows, made sure I had all LED lights, insulated the garage, all of these steps. Now I am over-paneled since I use less electricity with these upgrades. That excess electricity goes back to the grid, and because of net metering, they do reimburse me for that, but the optimal thing would be the amount of energy you’re making equals the amount you’re using. I could have saved money on the initial panel investment, but still, I have no regrets.

Rooftop solar panels installed on Kathie’s home in central Florida.

What ideal world do you envision for your granddaughter?

There’s so much false information about climate change, such divisiveness. What I would like to see is a world coming together to recognize this issue and to all be growing in the same direction trying to fix it. It would be like sending a man to the moon, we’d be able to put all our resources into actually solving this issue. We are doing better than ever right now, technology is rapidly improving, but we all have to be swimming in the right direction. That’s what I’d like to see for my granddaughter, is more generalized awareness and a group desire to fix the problem.

Sometimes I wonder, can individuals really turn this around? I understand that for a while when people talked about climate change, because they were talking about it as being so disastrous, it turned people off. But, I think that now, it’s much easier to point to certain things and say “you can be helpful here, this can be changed.” It’s just going to take all of us working together. 

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Like Kathie, each of us has an important role to play as members of the Clean Energy Generation in our collective effort to create a healthy, environmentally sustainable world. Regardless of our age, income, zip code, and abilities, we can each take action, no matter how small. We’re already making progress here in the Southeast – and we have the tools to continue making a difference, starting today. 


Reed Winckler
Reed joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2023 as Communications Coordinator and is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her focus is writing and creating content for SACE emails, newsletters,…
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