|Texas Oil Baron Is Promoting Solar Energy|
By TODD WOODY
Published: July 13, 2010
J. R. EWING returned to the small screen on Tuesday, and the boys down at the Cattlemen’s Club just might need a double bourbon when they hear what he has to say.
Larry Hagman, the actor who played the scheming Texas oilman on the long-running (1978-1991) television show “Dallas,” is reprising his role as J. R. in an advertising campaign to promote solar energy and SolarWorld, a German photovoltaic module maker.
“In the past, it was always about the oil,” Mr. Hagman says in a TV commercial that was unveiled Tuesday at the Intersolar conference in San Francisco.
“The oil was flowing and so was the money. Too dirty. I quit it years ago,” he growls as he saunters past a portrait of a grinning J. R. in younger days and a TV showing images of an offshore oil rig and blackened waters.
Putting on a 10-gallon hat, he heads outside into the sunshine and gazes at a solar array on the roof of the house. “But I’m still in the energy business,” he says. “There’s always a better alternative.”
“Shine, baby, shine,” he says, ending the spot with his trademark J. R. cackle.
In real life, Mr. Hagman, 78, lives on an estate in the Southern California town of Ojai, where he installed a 94-kilowatt solar system, thought to be the world’s largest residential array, several years ago. The rooftop system, which includes SolarWorld panels, cost $750,000, although Mr. Hagman said he received a $310,000 rebate.
“I’m a manufacturer of electricity,” Mr. Hagman said in an interview this week. “I use all that electricity and return the extra to the grid.”
He said the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted him to bring back the J. R. character. “With all that oil gushing away in the gulf, I figured it was time to call for a new direction in where we’re getting our energy,” the actor said. “Since Sarah Palin is saying, ‘Drill, baby, drill,’ I’m saying, ‘Shine, baby, shine.’ It’s a lot cheaper and cleaner.”
Mr. Hagman also serves on the board of the Solar Electric Light Fund, a nonprofit group that builds solar systems in poverty-stricken areas of the world.
SolarWorld donated solar panels for the fund’s work in Haiti after the earthquake there in January. On Tuesday, the company said it would give an additional 100 kilowatts of panels to provide electricity for at least five health clinics.
In return, Mr. Hagman made the commercials for SolarWorld, which began appearing online on Tuesday and will run nationally and in regional markets in coming weeks.
SolarWorld did not use an advertising agency to develop the spots. Instead, Mr. Hagman and Milan Nitzschke, SolarWorld’s head of marketing, co-wrote the script, according to Mr. Nitzschke. He said SolarWorld hired a German director, Sönke Wortmann, to shoot the commercials in Nice, France, about a month ago.
“It was quite an unusual way to do it, but I’ve known Larry for about three years and we both had an idea for how to do the commercial,” Mr. Nitzschke said.
SolarWorld, which is based in Germany but operates factories in California and Oregon, is just the latest solar company to run a prominent advertising campaign. Yingli, a previously little known Chinese solar panel maker, was an official sponsor of the World Cup. Its logo adorned South African soccer stadiums and was seen by millions of television viewers.
Since Yingli began selling solar panels in the United States last year, it has captured about a third of the California market.
SolarWorld wants to get the word out that while its headquarters is in Germany, it is manufacturing solar panels in the United States and providing jobs for Americans, said Ben Santarris, a spokesman for its American operations.
“The SolarWorld name has only been in this market since 2006,” he said, “We have competitors with American names that don’t produce anything in this market.”
This is not the first time Mr. Hagman has returned to his “Dallas” character in commercials. In the 1980s, he appeared as J. R. in television ads for BVD underwear. More recently, he reprised the character in a spot for British Gas, in which the oil tycoon praised a homeowner’s ability to control energy use with the company’s technology.
Mr. Hagman acknowledged rather gleefully that his advocacy of renewable energy might create some cognitive dissonance for those who associate him with a rapacious Texas oil baron. But he noted that there were barrels of money to be made from the sun as well.
“The thing is, these solar panels are manufactured domestically and can provide a lot of jobs for soldiers returning from all those wars we have fought,” he said.