As electricity rates continue to climb, some communities are coming together to try to offset their bills by harnessing the power of the sun. It’s still a pretty novel idea in West Virginia but communities in Fayette and Monroe Counties are forming solar co-ops to help make it happen.
Solar co-operative: a newer trend where communities are using their collective powers to navigate the world of solar energy.
Community Power Network
Anya Schoolman lives in Washington DC and when her son pushed her to go solar in 2007, she decided all the research and effort that went into it would be worth it if she was doing it for a whole neighborhood.
“So he went door to door with a flier and two weeks later we had 50 houses signed up and no idea what we were going to do,” Schoolman recalled. “The first group, it took us two years, we got 45 houses solarized.”
Schoolman said ever since then other neighborhoods have been coming to her, wanting to do the same thing.
She started, and became the executive director of Community Power Network. In the last year and a half the non-profit has helped 16 neighborhoods in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and now West Virginia pull together to make installing solar panels a more attainable goal.
How a solar co-ops work:
- Join a co-op, or start one, for free.
Two communities in West Virginia, one in Monroe County and one in Fayette County, approached the Community Power Network. And each community has different ideas about how they want to go solar.
“We found out about this opportunity because we’ve been doing a lot of energy efficiency work, so we invited them here because we knew that Fayetteville would be an excellent place to find people who would be interested in this kind of thing,” said Ginger Danze of Fayette County.
- Anyone who is interested signs up, for free.
About 27 residents are part of the solar co-op in Fayette County. Stiever and Schoolman met with community members to answer general questions and help community members make an informed decisions to best serve their solar needs.
- There’s a competitive bidding process to choose an installer.
Schoolman and Stiever laid out and helped community members navigate through information about going solar, then they put a call out to solar installer for bids. Three companies responded with proposals (one from West Virginia, one from Maryland, and one from Ohio).
- Whoever is chosen by the co-op does individualized site visits, and creates and offers custom designs to meet community needs.
Fayette County solar co-op’s decided to go with Ohio-based Appropriately Applied Technologies (AAT).
Myles Murray, the company’s president, said his proposal focused on quality materials to guarantee a maximum lifetime of the systems as well as other technical perks. But he said a key aspect of his proposal also focused on partnering with the community, hiring local contractors to install the systems.
- Then you buy together in bulk, saving anywhere from 20-30 percent on cost of supplies and installation.
Both the Fayette and the Monroe County co-ops will accept any interested parties through September. The co-op members are slated to be outfitted with solar panels by the first of the year.
Some Solar Details
Community Power Network says $8,000 – 15,000 is a good estimate for an average home solar system today.
- A 30 percent federal tax credit – Simply put, the next time you file taxes, you can write off 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels. It’s an offer that may expire in 2016.
- Net-metering – Written into West Virginia’s law books: For every kilowatt hour produced, your bill is reduced by that amount. If you produce more than you use, you acquire credits that can be applied to future bills.
“The solar that you produce this year might be worth five or six hundred dollars,” Schoolman said, “but electric rates have been going up and up so that same amount of power that you produce five years from now might be worth 1000 dollars. So the cumulative savings you have from the power you generate is worth three, four, five times what the system actually costs.”