Eric Reip, who used to install solar panels for an Amish business- man in Ohio, occasionally saw amenities in Amish homes that surprised him, including vacuum cleaners, blenders and foot massagers. He once put two panels on a barn roof to charge a 16-foot bass boat with an electric trolling motor.
"There are some people who abuse it," said Elam Beiler, 35, the Amish owner of Advanced Solar Industries in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. But in general, he said emphatically, solar energy has not changed the Amish.
"It's quite compatible with our lifestyle," he said, adding that while most Amish aren't thinking globally in terms of carbon footprints, solar energy squares with their beliefs about "preserving the Earth and practicing good stewardship."
Despite the community's famous insularity, the Amish enthusiasm for solar energy is having a small impact on their electricity-gobbling neighbors. Don Christner, a manager at Keim Lumber Co. in Charm, Ohio, said his store -- a building center similar to Home Depot -- began carrying solar panels about six months ago to meet the needs of Amish customers.
"Anywhere other than the heart of an Amish community like this, there would be no interest whatsoever," he said.
But slowly, non-Amish customers are starting to pay attention. Some local farmers, for instance, are using solar electricity in remote buildings on their properties. Christner is thinking of buying some panels himself -- an idea that never would have occurred to him if not for the Amish.
The irony of the Amish leading the so-called modern world down an alternative energy path delights Spratley of Green Energy Ohio.
"I think we can always learn something from people who may not have all the high technology we're inundated with," he said. "It certainly shows energy independence can be done, and done in this climate."