A group of people in and around Huntington are joining together to try to make solar power a reality for their homes.
It’s a solar co-op. A group of residents from the Huntington community and the surrounding areas are using the power of a group to purchase solar panels. It’s not the first solar co-op in the state. Previous co-ops have been formed in Morgantown, Wheeling and Charleston. And solar co-ops are coming together in Beckley, Lewisburg and the Mid-Ohio Valley region of the state.
“I moved to a total electric home, so hot water, furnace, everything electric,” Brown said. So part of it was to bring down the price of my energy, and I’m really interested in environmental issues and sustainability so I wanted to do my part, I guess.”
That’s Cheryl Brown. She’s one of the members of the Morgantown co-op that got its panels in late 2015.
The co-op there was set up by the non-profit West Virginia Sun. They say their mission is to fight for the energy rights of people in the state and set up the co-ops throughout the state. Altogether, they’ve helped organize 13 different solar co-ops in West Virginia. Autumn Long is the solar co-op coordinator for WV Sun.
“Our co-ops work on the model of bulk purchase, so we’re able to pool our buying power as a group and it also benefits the installer because they get a number of jobs in the same location and the same time frame, so they’re able to buy in larger bulk and they can pass that savings on to the customers,” Long said.
The process begins after 20-30 people sign up to join the co-op and qualify, meaning they have a westward facing roof with enough space to handle solar panels. A purchasing committee group from the co-op will issue a request for proposals from area installers. Co-op members review the bids and choose a single installer to service all the homes in the group.
Then each individual member of the co-op will get an estimate from the installer on what it would cost for his or her home.
Jim Kotcon joined the Morgantown Co-Op. He says it was something he wanted to do for a while and then the co-op came along and helped him afford the panels. He has a 2,800 square foot house, with a 5 kilowatt system, which worked out to 20 solar panels on his roof. He paid just under $15,000, which as Long said is about the average for homes in the state. After tax credits other incentives, he thinks he’ll have his money back in 10-12 years. In Kotcon’s case, the system is set up to provide all the power his home needs.
“We have a net metering arrangement with the local utilities so that in summer when we’re generating more than we need it bank credits, and then we use those up in the winter,” Kotcon said. “We still do have to pay a $5 month connection fee to stay connected to the grid, but on average that is pretty much the main electric bill that we have left.”
Sharon Slater, who lives in Culloden in eastern Cabell County, hears those numbers and gets excited about the prospects for helping her wallet and the environment. Slater’s ultimate goal is to rely on solar panels alone for her energy needs.
“But being in my late 60s, I’m really interested in being able to stay in my all-electric home where I have no access to natural gas,” Slater said.
Autumn Long of WV Sun said many of the participants in each co-op have wanted to go with solar for a while, but are afraid of starting the process on their own. Long said of the few dozen in each co-op, only a limited number end up with solar panels. The price can be prohibitive and in some situations, the home may not be able to ultimately accommodate the panels.
Long said she hopes this is just the beginning of solar in the Huntington community.
“We really want to see solar take root in the Huntington area and as the ball gets rolling and people get more and more comfortable with this technology and seeing it on their neighbors’ homes and local schools and residences, it just becomes more and more mainstream and a fact of life, so it really gains momentum,” Long said.
The Huntington co-op will meet again March 30th as the co-op continues to find more members. So far, 54 people have signed up in the Huntington area, but only 14 have been approved for the process based on the roof assessment.