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Do skylights bring sky-high energy bills?

Well-placed skylights can brighten rooms that lack daylight. Source: NREL/DOE

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: Our kitchen and dining rooms are in major need of some natural light. We’ve been thinking about installing a skylight, but we’re wondering if that will increase our energy bills. Can you provide any advice?

A: Skylights can bring a little of the outside world indoors and make your living space more livable—when they are installed correctly. But they can also impact your energy bills and comfort level, so you’re taking the right steps by doing some research ahead of time.

One downside of skylights is they can add heat to your home during the summer and heat loss during the winter. The amount of impact depends upon a number of elements, including the skylight’s energy rating, size, placement and quality of installation. You can check its energy efficiency by looking at the skylight’s NFRC Energy Performance Label, which shows four important pieces of the energy efficiency puzzle:

  • Insulation value (U-Factor)
  • Ability to transmit solar heat (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient)
  • Ability to allow light to transfer (Visible Transmittance)
  • Air leakage.

Finding a unit with the best ratings in all these categories will help maximize your skylight’s energy efficiency and performance. It’s probably worth spending a little more on a better product, since professional installation takes up the lion’s share of the cost of installing a skylight into an existing roof. That said, even the best skylight has a much lower insulation value than a properly insulated attic.

Just as important as finding the right skylight is determining the proper size, number and placement. You want adequate light, but too much can make a room less functional on a bright day. Skylights on a steep, north-facing roof will reduce the unwanted solar heat gain in the summer, but this also reduces the desirable solar heat gain in winter.

Ultraviolet (UV) light can cause furniture finishes to fade. This can be minimized by making sure your skylight has high-quality glazing or by applying a special film to the skylight.

Proper installation by a knowledgeable professional is essential to avoid all-too-common problems. One serious issue is water leaks—a problem often caused by improper exterior installation on the roof. Flashing must be installed correctly to be effective for the pitch of the roof and the type of roofing materials.

Another potential problem area is the skylight shaft that transmits the light into the living space below. Inadequate or poorly installed insulation is a source of heat loss and can cause ice dams that allow water to find its way into the home. Air leaks in the shaft can also cause these types of problems. Moisture problems can cause condensation build-up inside the home, resulting in mold, mildew and rot (especially in bathrooms).

An alternative option to the regular skylight is the tubular skylight. A small skylight on the roof is connected to a flexible tube that runs through the attic to a room below. This system provides a diffused natural light. The tube is much smaller than a skylight shaft and is easier and less expensive to install. The tube has less heat loss and is less leak-prone. Tubular skylights can fit into spaces that a traditional skylight can’t, and can be a better choice in rooms with high moisture, like bathrooms, saunas or indoor swimming pools. 

As you consider your options, it may be worthwhile to think back to your goals. Perhaps you can gain more light in these rooms without installing a skylight by trying these steps:

  • Paint the room a lighter color.
  • Hang mirrors.
  • Replace heavy window coverings with lighter ones.
  • Add indirect lighting such as upward-facing pole lamps.
  • Trim any trees that shade the windows.

If you’ve done your research and decide to move forward with new skylights, I hope you will consider buying the best product your budget will accommodate––and find a contractor with experience and solid references to provide the installation. Good luck!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on skylights, please visit:

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Write to for more information.

Alabama Bookshelf

In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coopDue to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.

Coastal Alabama Retirement Guide and Coastal Alabama Economic History, both by Mark Fagan, BookBaby (publisher), $30 and $40 respectively (travel) The retirement guide summarizes the factors important for retirement destinations and includes detailed information on such topics as climate, housing, health care and more. It includes a general description of coastal Alabama, including a brief description of each municipality.

The economic history book could be used as an educational resource on the history of coastal Alabama, as well as a guide to historical tourism. This book resulted from the author’s research into the history of Mobile and Baldwin counties, and became so detailed that it deserved treatment on its own as a resource for people who love coastal Alabama’s history. Author Fagan is professor emeritus at Jacksonville State University and also wrote “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail: Its History and Economic Impact.” He has researched retiree migration and retirement communities for more than 30 years.

Alabama Lore, by Wil Elrick, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $23.99 (Alabama folklore) Alabama is a weird and wonderful place with a colorful history steeped in folk tales passed from generation to generation. Author Elrick, who is from Guntersville, explores the history behind some of the Cotton State’s favorite tales.

Treeborne, by Caleb Johnson, Picador, $26 (novel) Janie Treeborne lives on an orchard at the edge of Elberta, Ala., and in time, she has become its keeper. Elberta has seen fierce battles, violent storms and frantic change – and when the town is once again threatened, Janie realizes it won’t withstand much more, so she tells the story of its people. As the world closes in on Elberta, this debut novel from Johnson, who is from Arley, Ala., lifts the veil and offers one last glimpse.

Alabama Founders: Fourteen Political and Military Leaders Who Shaped the State, by Herbert James Lewis, The University of Alabama Press, $24.95 paperback (Alabama history) While much has been written about the significant events in the history of early Alabama, there has been little information about the people who participated in those events. The book examines the lives of those who opened Alabama for settlement, secured its status as a territory in 1817, and helped lay the foundation for the political and economic infrastructure of Alabama in its early years.

To Raise up the Man Farthest Down: Tuskegee University’s Advancements in Human Health, 1881-1987, by Dana R. Chandler and Edith Powell, The University of Alabama Press, $39.95 (Alabama history) Though the university’s accomplishments and devotion to social issues are well known, its work in medical research and health care has received little acknowledgment. Tuskegee has been fulfilling Booker T. Washington’s vision of “healthy minds and bodies” since its inception in 1881. This book documents the school’s medical and public health history with rich archival data and never-before-published photographs.

A Gathering Misery, by Rocky Porch Moore, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, $15.99 (Southern Gothic, horror) Deborah Ballard is pushed away from July Mountain by her grief-stricken parents into the overbearing arms of the grandmother who has vowed to straighten her out. In this sequel to Clemenceau’s Daughters, family secrets reach beyond the grave to ensnare Deborah in a haunting cycle of cruelty. The author lives in Foley.

Looking for good barbecue? Safety pros are in the know!

Most publications get professional foodies to compile lists of favorite restaurants. But we think we have an even better source: The safety staff of the Alabama Rural Electric Association, which publishes Alabama Living.

Why? Our safety guys are always on the road, traveling to provide training and guidance to our 22 member cooperatives and some municipal electric utilities.

Among the staff’s many duties: They conduct monthly in-house safety meetings, crew visits and facility inspections at your local co-op; they train your co-op’s employees on everything from CPR to hazardous materials to pole-top rescue; they work with co-op managers and CEOs to provide updates and interpretations from such national regulatory groups as OSHA and DOT; and they coordinate power restoration assistance after weather-related events.

These jobs keep them moving all over the state of Alabama, from the mountains of the northeast to the Black Belt to the Wiregrass to the Gulf Coast. And as you might expect, it means a lot of eating on the road!

We asked them to tell us their favorite barbecue places around the state, just in time for football season tailgating. Of course, we can’t list every great barbecue joint in Alabama, so drop us a line and let us know your favorite (and why!).

Send those by mail to Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124, or via email to

– Allison Law

Michael Kelley

Director of safety, loss control and regulatory compliance, AREA

Home base: Wetumpka

Favorite barbecue place: Mud Creek Bar-B-Que, 804 County Road 213, Hollywood, AL 35752; 256-259-2493

Billy Carver and his brother-in-law, Gerry Teal, own and operate Mud Creek, which features a barbecue sauce that is Carolina style – meaning it’s vinegar and mustard based, as opposed to the more ketchup- or molasses-based sauces. It’s off the beaten path in Jackson County, but is known by locals and travelers alike for its great food and friendly service.

Safety man says: The hush puppies are a must-try side item, and the barbecue sauce is “the bomb.”

Eric Turner

Safety specialist, AREA

Home base: Cullman

Favorite barbecue place: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, 2520 Danville Road SW, Decatur, AL 35603, 256-350-0404; and 1715 6th Ave. SE, Decatur, AL 35601, 256-350-6969

Big Bob Gibson’s was founded in Decatur in 1925 by Bob Gibson, an L&N Railroad worker who honed his cooking skills on the weekends in a hand-dug barbecue pit. In addition to the delicious smoked meats, the restaurant became famous for its original white sauce. Today, five generations of pitmasters have earned 15 World BBQ Championships and five Memphis in May World BBQ Grand Championships. And the restaurants now feature a signature red sauce in addition to the peppery white sauce served on the barbecued chickens; both sauces are widely available in stores.

Safety man says: “They have the best smoked turkey that I’ve eaten anywhere. I’m not a huge pork fan so I base my restaurants on the turkey. Their white sauce is I believe a world champion winner.”

Jeff Whatley

Training and safety coordinator, AREA

Home base: Grady community

Favorite barbecue place: SweetCreek Farms, 85 Meriwether Road, Pike Road, AL 36064; 334-280-3276

SweetCreek was also our Worth the Drive feature in August! In addition to the pulled pork, the restaurant serves smoked chicken and St. Louis-style ribs.

Safety man says: “All meat is cooked over pecan wood for a mellow smoke taste. You can smell it when you get out of the truck. Homemade sauce combines sweet and savory. Everything is fresh and homemade. Favorite sides are jalapeno-based swamp slaw and broccoli salad. Finish it off with homemade ice cream and cookies.”

Buster Bishop

Training and safety coordinator, AREA

Home base: Billingsley

Favorite barbecue place: Jim’s B-B-Q, 3657 U.S. 82, Billingsley, AL 36006; 334-366-4284

Jim’s is still family-owned and operated since it opened in the 1970s, and is likely best known as the place to stop on the way to and from Tuscaloosa for Alabama home football games. Owner Jeannette Hughes told that employees put in 18 hours a day when Alabama plays at home.

Safety man says: The smoked pulled pork in their sandwich is piled high and “yum yum. The vinegar sauce is outstanding.”

How do you ‘cue?


We’ve all got our own preferences, so feel free to have your barbecue your way.

Pork, beef or chicken? Ribs or other cuts? If other cuts, pulled, sliced or chopped and then tucked between a bun or mounded on a plate? Dry rub or sauce? And on the sauce: thick or thin? Spicy, sweet or tangy? Yellow, red or Alabama white?

     Despite multiple differences, some substantial, some subtle, in the styles and schools of barbecue served across our region, as a general food category, it’s firmly rooted in the South’s culinary consciousness. But there are internal debates down here. Some purists insist if it isn’t cooked low and slow over hardwood coals, it isn’t authentic barbecue. Some folks believe if it isn’t pork, it can’t be called ‘cue. But most of us enjoy it — or at least its signature tastes — almost any way we can get it.

     Barbecue’s flavors have made their way far beyond traditional proteins to be found on shrimp and grilled fish. Heck, they’re no longer confined to meat. BBQ potato chips or nachos, anyone?

     And while truly GREAT barbecue can be a bit elusive, and no matter where your allegiances lie, it’s hard to find bad barbecue simply because there’s so much of it.

     In Alabama, we’ve got plenty of contenders when it comes to restaurant barbecue, from big-name chains to ramshackle shacks pumping out savory scented, siren-song smoke. And in the barbecue game, “amateurs” compete with the pro pitmasters, sometimes at events and often, just in spirit; plenty of home cooks swear (and their friends and neighbors stand by their stories) that their sauce reigns supreme and their ‘cue is championship-grade.

     Some of our own readers have shown themselves to be quite confident in their barbecue skills by sharing their prized recipes. Try one or two, and feel free to add your own takes or twists. The only real rule when it comes to barbecue? Cook and eat what you like.

Cook of the Month:

Glenda Weigel, Baldwin EMC

Glenda Weigel had her first introduction to barbecue shrimp on a trip to New Orleans more than 20 years ago and thought the flavor combo was spectacular. She’s been making her barbecue shrimp ever since. It’s become a fixture in her kitchen, thanks to its delectability and its versatility. “Everyone likes it; it’s so good,” she says. “And you can make it any time of year. It’s really season-less. It’s just as good in the summer as it is at a Christmas party, and it does make a great party food.” It’s also pretty simple to make. “It’s so easy, anyone can do it, even your husband!” she says.


Barbecued Shrimp

  • 24 large shrimp (shelled, deveined, tails left on)
  • 24 slices bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • Remove shells and butterfly the shrimp. (Cut down the back and open up. Devein, but leave the tail on as a handle.) Place a piece of onion on the shrimp. Fold it up and wrap a piece of bacon around it, and secure it with a toothpick. Fix the rest of the shrimp in this way. Mix the remaining ingredients together to make a New Orleans-style BBQ sauce. Pour this over all the shrimp. Leave in this marinade for one hour. Turn shrimp a couple of times while in marinade. Barbecue over medium fire until the shrimp are cooked and the bacon is crispy.


Smoked Fattie

  • 1 pound premium bulk pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 tablespoons BBQ rub of choice, divided
  • 1 1-gallon seal-top bag
  • 1 7.5-ounce cream cheese with chives, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons onion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons green or red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Prepare grill for indirect cooking or smoker at 250 degrees. Remove sausage from wrapper and place in the seal-top bag. Using a rolling pin, begin flattening the sausage to completely fill the bag and return to the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to re-chill. Sauté onions and pepper in butter/oil until soft. Remove the sausage from the refrigerator, open the top, and with a sharp pair of scissors, cut down each side of the bag but leave it in one piece; this helps in rolling. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of BBQ rub evenly over the sausage. Spread cream cheese over the sausage to within about ½-inch of the edges. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and vegetables over the cream cheese. Using the plastic bag, roll the sausage into a roll like a jelly roll. Be sure no plastic is left on the sausage. Sprinkle the remaining BBQ rub on the outside of the roll. Place sausage roll in the smoker/grill and cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes before slicing.

Elmer Vick

Baldwin EMC

Satisfying Succulent Southwestern Barbecued Pork Ribs

  • 3-4 pounds pork ribs, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1-2 onions, sliced
  • 1 cup green peppers, chopped
  • Hot chili peppers, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup root beer

Place ribs in a pan and season with salt and pepper. Brown in 450-degree oven. Cover with onions and peppers. Combine remaining ingredients; pour over meat. Cover tightly and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Baste occasionally. Uncover for the last 15 minutes to brown.

Lexi Turnipseed

Dixie EC

Spicy BBQ Pork Chops

  • 1/3 cup hickory barbecue sauce
  • 1/3 cup steak sauce
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 6 bone-in pork chops

Mix liquid ingredients and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Grill covered until temperature reaches 145 degrees, brushing with sauce frequently. Let stand 5 minutes and serve.

Debbie Headley

South Alabama EC

Alabama’s Own

In addition to some of the storied barbecue institutions that are home-based here, our state has another claim to barbecue fame: Alabama white sauce. This tangy, mayo-based liquid goes well with almost anything, but bathe some slow-smoke-roasted chicken with it, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. Sources trace its roots back to North Alabama, where Bob Gibson is said to have first concocted it in Decatur in 1925 when he opened Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. Its popularity and use have grown and spread alongside the fame of the restaurant and that of current pitmaster and chef Chris Lilly, husband to Big Bob’s great granddaughter, and a member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame.

Aunt Masa’s Soul Sauce (Barbecue Sauce)

  • 1 10-ounce can Heinz ketchup (do not substitute)
  • 1 quart apple cider vinegar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 pint Frank’s Hot Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and simmer until the desired consistency. Put into pint canning jars and either refrigerate or process in water bath canner for 20 minutes. This BBQ sauce is great on anything that you barbecue or would normally add BBQ sauce to.

Marsha S. Gardner

Baldwin EMC

Al’s BBQ Sauce

  • ¼ cup oil
  • ½ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 8  or 10-ounce tomato sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4-6 shakes hot sauce
  • 20 ounces ketchup
  • 10 ounces Heinz 57
  • 4 ounces liquid smoke
  • ½ cup honey
  • Spices: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion flakes

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a slow boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Cool. For ¼ chicken, BBQ 45 minutes; ½ chicken, BBQ 90 minutes. Cook’s tip: For a dark sauce, substitute A1 Sauce for Heinz 57. For Texas chicken: Make a sop of 50 percent vinegar, 50 percent oil and a good shot of pepper. Sop chicken until 20 minutes before done. Then add BBQ sauce.

Sandra Largen

Central Alabama EC

White BBQ Sauce

  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Mix together and use for basting. Great on chicken. Cook in oven or open grill.

Betty Moore

Franklin EC

Coming up in October… BBQ!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

November: Nuts | Sept. 8

December: Party Foods | Oct 8

January: Protein Packed | Nov. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Small game animals are a great introduction to hunting

Steven Felsher, Brett Pratt and Chester Thompson look for squirrels in a grove of towering white oaks. Squirrels like hardwood trees that produce abundant nuts. Photo by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Many young sportsmen begin hunting by accompanying a father, grandfather, other relative or friend looking for small game. Young hunters usually see more game and fire their guns more often when hunting small game than when sitting still and quiet for long hours in a deer stand. Following behind an experienced hunter, youngsters also learn valuable woodsmanship and stalking skills.

“Small game hunting provides a great opportunity to engage new hunters in active pursuit hunting methods without being confined to a shooting house often associated with deer hunting,” says Steve Barnett, an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologist. “Roaming the woods for small game with a mentor hones woodsmanship skills and provides an outdoor classroom for plant and animal sign identification as a bonus.”

In Alabama, squirrel and rabbit seasons run concurrently. They open on Sept. 15 and run through March 3, 2019. People can bag up to eight rabbits and eight squirrels per day.

“Most regions of the state have good, stable numbers of rabbits and squirrels,” Barnett says. “Areas managed for mast producing hardwoods such as oaks provide some of the best habitat for squirrels. Open habitats such as fallow fields, new clear-cuts and brushy openings are havens for rabbits.”

When looking for squirrels, move slowly through forests. Take a few steps, then stop, look and listen. Watch trees for movement or anything unusual. Periodically, sit on a log or lean against a tree to listen for claws scratching on bark, objects dropping or branches shaking. Also listen for barking squirrels.

Many sportsmen hunt squirrels in teams, an excellent idea with accompanying youngsters. When teams detect a squirrel, but can’t quite locate it, one person can remain motionless while the other walks around the tree. Squirrels frequently try to keep tree trunks between themselves and danger. If the squirrel reacts to the person walking, it might present a shot to the other sportsman.

For fox squirrels, sportsmen might head to Oakmulgee or Blue Spring Wildlife Management Areas. One of the oldest and perhaps the most scenic WMA in the state, Oakmulgee covers 44,500 acres of Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties about 25 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa. Part of the 392,567-acre Talladega National Forest, the habitat consists mostly of hills covered in mature open longleaf pine forests with periodic upland hardwood forests and swampy drainages. People can also hunt the surrounding national forest.

Blue Spring WMA covers 24,783 acres of pine flatwoods periodically dotted by hardwood strands in the Conecuh National Forest near Andalusia. Other WMAs that offer good squirrel hunting include Black Warrior near Moulton, Barbour near Clayton, the Jackson County WMAs, James D. Martin-Skyline near Scottsboro, Upper Delta by Mobile and William R. Ireland, Sr.-Cahaba near West Blocton.

Since the seasons run concurrently, many people lump squirrel and rabbit hunting together. True, squirrel hunters occasionally kick up a cottontail while walking along the wooded edge of field or jump a big swamp rabbit in a hardwood thicket, but people hunt squirrels and rabbits in completely different ways.

Most people use trained beagles to flush rabbits from impenetrable thickets. When a rabbit bolts from cover, shooters must react fast. Difficult, but not impossible, some hunters bag rabbits without dogs by taking turns smashing through thickets, kicking grass clumps or fallen logs as others watch for anything that might run out. Chokepoints that limit where rabbits can run, such as openings in fences or narrow strips of high ground in a flooded wetland, also make good places to hunt rabbits.

Many WMAs across the state allow rabbit hunting. Some better ones include Choccolocco near Heflin, the Jackson County WMAs, Lowndes near White Hall, Sam R. Murphy near Guin and Skyline. For the best chances at bagging a swamp rabbit, visit the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

“There are ample hunting opportunities on all WMAs that have rabbit and squirrel seasons,” Barnett says. “Most areas are underutilized for small game.”

In addition, several Special Opportunity Areas will hold small game hunts. Fred T. Stimpson SOA in Clarke County will hold special youth squirrel hunts. Other rabbit and squirrel hunts will be held in Cedar Creek and Portland Landing SOAs in Dallas County and Uchee Creek SOA in Russell County. For details, see

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: Southern by the signs

You remember a couple of years ago when they busted TV’s Miss Cleo?

She was the Jamaican psychic whose “hotline” offered free “supernatural insight into love and money.”

Well, according to authorities, Miss Cleo (who was really Youree Dell Harris of Los Angeles) used the old “bait and switch” on folks who called in. She came on the line and told them to phone another number which, it turned out, charged them about $5 a minute.

Now I figure that many of Miss Cleo’s callers could have been Southerners.

Not only do we talk a lot (ask us the time of day and we tell you how to make a watch), we have a history of trying to hook up with the supernatural.

Many among us regularly consult the astrological section of an almanac and schedule everything from planting to procreating according to the alignment of heavenly bodies.   

Others consult folks like Henry Baysmore.

Back in the 1930s, the 75-year-old Baysmore was interviewed at his Montgomery home.  He told how he “started out to be a preacher once” and seemed on the road to success until he found that the Bible said that ministers should keep themselves “unspotted from the world.” He was OK with that until he found that the Good Book also said ministers should “visit the widows.”

That presented a problem for, he observed, if “you have ever been acquainted with any widows, you know a preacher can’t visit them and keep himself unspotted.”

So, he told his visitor, “I give up preachin’.”

What did he do then? He became Montgomery’s Miss Cleo.

Those were Depression years and people were uneasy. So Baysmore had plenty of visitors who “wanted to see into the future.” Such advice did not come cheap, $10 a session, but if they protested he simply told them, “If you can’t afford ten dollars for a little supernatural information” then they would suffer the consequences.

So they paid up.

Though Henry Baysmore gave up preaching to become a psychic, some time ago, riding through Wilcox County, I saw a sign announcing that “Dr. Black,” the “Holy Profet of God,” had discovered a way to combine the two.

Apparently ignoring the problem with widows, “Dr. Black” found scriptural foundation for his calling in First Samuel where Saul tries to figure out how to pay a seer for helping him recover some runaway asses. Figuring if Saul could, so could he, and Dr. Black opened the “House of Prayer and Faith,” where religion and folklore were bundled together for believers.

According to the sign, anyone who was “crossed up,” “troubled,” or suffering from what he called, with a fine feeling for words, “Lost Nature,” should take Dr. Black on as their “Spiritual Reader and Advisor.”

I bet business was brisk.

We all know that since forever, a sizable segment of the South’s population has believed that greater forces are at work in the world and that there are special people who can understand them. Sometimes the gifted are found in churches that focus on biblical prophecy and mystical communications like speaking in tongues. Other times these spiritual advisors are found outside any religious congregation, out on the fringes of society.

But remember, historically, it is on the fringes of society that so many Southerners have lived. And those Southerners, in trying to deal with troubling questions, have turned to the Bible, the Almanac, preachers, teachers, and people like Baysmore, and Black.

Some even called Miss Cleo – long distance.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living.  He can be reached at

From trial size to supersized: Solar surges in rural communities

By Tracy Warren

Five years ago, many people in the electric industry viewed solar energy as a kind of “boutique” resource––more an energy accessory than a real power supply option. But in the last half-decade, as the costs to install solar went down and electric utilities gained experience with this unique energy resource, there has been a dramatic transformation, and solar energy has made the jump to the big leagues.

At local electric cooperatives, consumer-members were asking questions about whether this new technology would be suitable either for their own home or for the cooperative.

Given the high cost to install solar, electric co-ops had questions about the economic feasibility of solar and its effect on the electric system. Even with federal tax incentives, the cost of solar was not competitive with other resources such as wind and natural gas.

Engineers also had questions. What happens to the system when the sun doesn’t shine? Or even more tricky: what happens on those days when multiple clouds sail by, making a strobe light out of the sun?

To answer these questions, co-ops started installing small arrays, analyzing costs and efficiency. Five years ago, compared to other resources, many concluded solar was still simply too expensive.

Solar Array

The cost of panels and equipment was not the only reason solar was expensive. There were also soft costs, like training, business processes and software. There was little standardization among solar projects––every project was unique. Engineers and resource planners, unfamiliar with this technology, needed training and technical assistance. Financial partners still needed convincing when it came to investing in large-scale solar projects.

As the solar industry started growing, thanks in part to tax credits and other policy incentives, the cost of solar panels and other equipment started declining; the economics started changing.

In 2014, 17 electric co-ops joined with their national trade organization, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), to collaborate on solar installations in 10 states whose combined solar capacity would be 23 megawatts. The goal of the project was to make solar more affordable for electric co-ops by driving down the soft costs.

The project, which received funding from the Department of Energy, aimed to create a network of experts within the cooperative community. By sharing information and expertise, co-op experts could make solar installations easier and less financially risky for other co-ops to follow suit.

Over the course of this project, the cost of solar fell dramatically. For example, one co-op that built a solar installation at the beginning of the project and another one two years later, found the cost was half what it had been two years earlier. In 2013, the cost was $4.50 per watt of installed solar, and in 2016, the cost was $1.74 per watt.

As more electric co-ops gained experience and shared information about what worked and what didn’t, the risks that come with innovation and change also went down. Solar became more doable for cooperatives large and small.

With the decline in costs and the increase in knowledge and understanding, solar has taken off in rural communities. The proof is in the numbers. Today, America’s electric co-ops own or purchase more than nine times as much photovoltaic solar power as they did in 2013. And by the end of 2019, the combined solar capacity of America’s electric cooperatives is expected to surpass a gigawatt.

Tracy Warren writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.