Land of 10,000 Stories: Publisher's passion fueled by sun

John Martin has the sheepish smile of a man for whom life has exceeded expectations.

MINNEAPOLIS - John Martin has the sheepish smile of a man for whom life has exceeded expectations.

Bellwether - the children's book publishing company he founded eight years ago - is growing nicely, with 13 employees and roughly 150 new titles a year. But Martin can't help wanting something more.

When he shows off the pictures of his new cabin, you'll hear no mention of the lake or the view. "This is actually fly ash," he says, pointing to a photo of the cabin's siding. "The geothermal system is already placed in the ground."

You won't hear talk of his office d├ęcor either. But Martin can't wait to tell you about his high efficiency light bulbs. "Yeah I'm a little bit geeky, I guess," he says, as that sheepish smile again spreads across Martin's face.

Further proof of Martin's green energy 'geek' can be found on his building's roof. "This solar array is one of the biggest in south Minneapolis," he informs a visitor who has followed him up a ladder.

Martin filled the roof with photovoltaic solar panels in 2010. "Christmas for him," is how Kari Schuetz, one of his employees, describes it. Another worker, David Rausch, is used to hearing footsteps. "You can always hear him up on the roof in the winter, shoveling."

Yet bright as the sun shined, Martin's roof would only hold enough panels to produce about two thirds of his building's electricity.

Albeit smaller, that check he was writing to Xcel Energy finally got the better of him. Martin called Mike Allen from All Energy Solar who had helped him with the original project. He'd later laugh, "It was a little bit different of an idea. That idea, a sort of inverted awning covered by solar panels, now juts skyward off the back of Martin's building. "Exactly," says Martin enthusiastically, "We needed to keep going."

Now Martin not only is powering his building, but on sunny days is selling energy back to the power company.

More times a week than he cares to admit, Martin can be found behind his building watching the electrical meter spin. "This is my happy place," he laughs.

Then he gets even happier when he slides behind the wheel of his Chevrolet Volt.

When Chevy launched the electric Volt, Martin bought the first one he could find. He fell in love with his Volt, even named it. "I call her Carmen Electra," he smiles.

He'd found bliss. "I find myself just turning the car off sometimes and listening to the silence," he says.

All was good until the Volt hit its 40 mile battery range and its gasoline engine kicked in. "Every time the engine would come on it would be a big bummer," said Martin.

Bummer no more, as Martin just joined a couple dozen other Minnesotans who have taken delivery of a Tesla Model S, an all electric car with a 265 mile battery range.

"This is so cool," says Allen as Martin show him around the black, elegant and curvaceous automobile. "Beautiful car," says the clearly impressed solar company rep. He should be wowed; the solar panels on the office building roof, are also now fueling Martin's new car.

John Martin was not born into money. He built a publishing business from scratch and earned the privilege of driving an $85,000 electric car.

The sheepish smile returns as he admits, "At times I feel a little awkward in it, but I think I'll get use to it pretty fast." The smile turns to a laugh.

It's what happens when a green energy geek winds up with the coolest car on the block.


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