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The Emergence of Grass-Roots Solar Initiatives

From guest blogger Ryan Tollefsen in Anchorage Alaska.

With the interest in solar power, groups are forming to make solar energy more affordable. Individual homeowners and commercial property owners, having taken keen interest in other green technologies like sustainable building materials, may want to switch to solar but may find it difficult to get details on solar power in their area or get an initial site analysis of their home or property. Grass-roots solar initiatives have popped up to address concerns and questions and help individuals interested in solar power use
collective bargaining power for additional discounts and to simplify the process.

Get more details about grass-roots initiatives in Maine and NY and learn more about additional support for residents in your area today.

Initiatives in Freeport

Solarize Freeport is one group that has formed that may serve to make clean energy more accessible and affordable. The aim of this group is to create a buying club and purchase in bulk to reduce the cost of solar systems. Residents are pooling resources to meet this objective. The idea is not new as pooling resources has been done in Maine by farmers and fishing co-ops in the past.

During a town hall meeting, people learned that the cost of an average solar system for residential use can be reduced by about a third when taking into account factors such as bulk buying and federal tax breaks. The system will pay for itself in 10 years and can provide free electricity for another 20 to 30 years. As energy suppliers regularly raise prices, a source of consistent low-cost energy is a great attraction. In addition, solar energy can work in areas that are cold and moderately sunny. Germany is the leading solar producer and Maine has a similar climate to that area. The community in Augusta, Maine is looking into ways to help more households afford and benefit from solar energy.

Here Comes Solar Community Initiative

Residents may have a hard time getting questions answered and even having a company do a site assessment to determine viability for a solar panel system. Adel Sarhan of Park Slope found this to be the case when he reached out for estimates to installers in the area. Sarhan was interested in going solar to support the environment and to benefit from expiring incentives. His initial experience left him discouraged.

He came across Solar One’s Here Comes Solar community initiative. The organization provides free site assessments and then once they have three to 10 homeowners in an area
interested in moving forward, projects are bundled together and bids are solicited from pre-vetted solar installers. The group then chooses one of the installers to complete the projects. Sarhan is part of one network of 5 homeowners. The system he chose will cost more than $28,000 but after state and federal tax credits, rebates and a city property tax abatement, will end up costing approximately $7,500. Initiatives such as this can make it easier to recoup initial purchasing and installation costs and provide homeowners with more leverage when it comes to finding, pricing and installing a solar system from a reputable installer.

Authorities Supporting Grass-root Initiatives

Additional resources may be available in New York and other areas. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is available to work with such initiatives to increase adoption of solar energy for residential use. Additional campaigns from Here Comes Solar are helping commercial and residential property owners to receive a discount over a set period of time. Sustainable CUNY offers a NYC Solar Map to assist residents in New York in understanding whether or not a building may be a candidate for solar energy. Sustainable CUNY also helps in addressing any permitting issues. The SolSmart program from The Solar Foundation offers free technical assistance to towns, counties and cities looking to improve accessibility to and affordability of solar power. [Ypsilanti was awarded a Gold status SolSmart award.]

Benefits of Cost-Sharing

New cost-sharing models may serve to reduce the “soft costs” of going solar. It may make it easier for residential and commercial property owners to get initial property
assessments and create a better system for more efficiency when it comes to zoning issues or permitting of properties in urban areas. Those taking part in these new initiatives and who get site analysis are much more likely to have a solar system installed than individual homeowners looking for an installer on their own.

It appears that the demand for solar coupled with additional support has made it possible for small group initiatives to make headway in providing information and potential
discounts for those who choose to commit to going solar. As more prospective homeowners learn of solar initiatives in their area, the trend may continue to grow.