"Between last July and this May, 45 members of the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative had solar panels installed on their roofs. Schoolman said the group selected five installers co-op members could choose from, and added the installers chosen competed “very intensely” for the group’s business.
The retail price of installing solar panels in the D.C. area, according to Schoolman, can range from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the size of the system.
After the 30 percent federal tax credit and a generous local rebate, the actual price is reduced by about half. There is also an estimated 25 plus years of saving between a third and half off your electric bill.
"The money is not the biggest thing," added Schoolman. "The biggest thing is having that support. Most of my members say they would have never done this without the group.”
The Mount Pleasant Solar Co-op is now organizing a second round of solar installations, and Schoolman expects this round will have between 10 and 20 households participate. She also estimates there are at least six other community solar projects in the D.C. area alone.
The co-op is one of a growing number of solar community projects forming nationwide. Widely thought of as something a household does on its own, the complexity of the solar panel process and the initial upfront costs are making group efforts attractive. Neighbors can share information, vet installers together, and in some cases, drive down the retail cost of solar installations.
In Portland, Ore., community solar projects, like Solarize Portland, have become popular within the past year.
"We call it a community education and volume purchasing project,” said Tim O'Leary, co-founder of Solarize Portland. “The idea is basically to do outreach and organize as many people as we can in a fairly small area who are interested in installing solar.”
The group organizes educational workshops to help residents learn the ins and outs of getting panels installed on their homes and helps them navigate the financial incentives. They also vet contractors and select one to do all of the site assessments and installations.
Solarize Portland started the first round last May in Southeast Portland, and the installations spanned from September to February. Initially they expected around 50 households to participate, but in the end, 145 residences installed solar panels.
"When the first round started, the average price for a residential installation in Portland was about $9 per watt, and our price is $6.80 per watt, so that's about a 25 percent discount right off the top, which is thousands of dollars," said O'Leary.
A second round of installations in Southeast Portland has just begun, and 1,000 households have expressed interest. O'Leary expects at least 150 households to follow through and get solar panels installed. In addition, Solarize Portland has recently started programs in Northeast and Southwest Portland. To put the group’s impact into perspective, in 2008, the year before it was started, just 38 households in all of Portland had solar panels installed. O'Leary said he got the idea to form Solarize Portland from San Francisco-based company 1 Block off the Grid. Unlike the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative and Solarize Portland, 1BOG, as it’s commonly referred to, operates on a national basis and is a for-profit company.
Started in late 2008, 1BOG goes into different neighborhoods around the country, gets a large group of homeowners together who are interested in installing solar panels, educates consumers on solar energy, vets installers to find the best one and then negotiates a reduced price for the households in the group. The chosen installer then pays 1BOG a referral fee for each home. The fee is the same, regardless of which installer wins, to assure customers the referral fee does not affect the selection decision.
"We remove the really tough parts out of buying solar from the equation," explained Dave Llorens, founder of 1BOG.
He estimates households who go through 1BOG typically get their solar installation bill reduced by 15 percent. But, he added, the community aspect of the program is as appealing as the price reduction.
"A big part of the reason this works is because it's a group purchase," he added. "You're just infinitely more likely to believe this proposition of solar if your friend is like 'Hey, I checked this out and it looks really good and you should check it out, too.'"
In 2009, the company helped 600 homes across the country install solar panels. This year, they expect that number to increase to 3,000 homes.
1BOG now has active solar campaigns in Northern New Jersey, San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, Phoenix and several cities in California. A campaign in South Jersey is launching on June 1." (http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/pdfs/2010-02-28_cbj.pdf)
"We are a diverse and growing group of families and friends who want to help solve the global problem of climate change one neighborhood at a time — starting with our own. Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop aims to make rooftop solar power convenient and affordable for everybody in our neighborhood which is located in central Washington D.C. near the National Zoo.
We are working with other communities to build a network of neighborhoods committed to solar energy and taking real action to reduce our dependence on carbon polluting energy." (http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/)
"We are an association of 70-plus households in the Mt. Pleasant community of the District of Columbia. We were founded in the fall of 2006 by neighbors Anya Schoolman and Jeff Morley and their teenage sons, Walter Lynn and Diego Arene-Morley, because of the urgent need we felt to reduce our impact on global warming.
Two ideas led us to the coop model.
First, if we were going to go through all the work to figure out how to install solar technology, we decided we would have more impact by including more people in the project.
Second, we needed a way to make solar power less expensive. We hoped that through bulk purchase, and sharing expenses and expertise we could significantly bring down the cost.
The immediate goal is to make solar affordable, easy and widely available in our neighborhood. Our ultimate goal is to develop a model that can be tested in Mt Pleasant and then rolled out across any neighborhood in D.C. Washington.
The idea is that members will merely have to sign up—and they will get solar power installed on their roof." (http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/about.htm)
- Faq, http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/faqs.htm
- Video via http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/takingaction-wewentsolar.htm
- News coverage: http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/news.htm
- Sister coops in D.C. area, http://www.mtpleasantsolarcoop.org/sistercoops.htm