Neighbors Going Solar Together, Saving Money

Originally published, 2014 Maryland Solar Tour guide by Emily Stiever.

neighborsOver the last year more than 500 homeowners from the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area have organized themselves into solar co-ops to go solar together and save money! Working with local non-profit Community Power Network (CPN), the co-op members leverage their collective buying power and get technical expertise from CPN in order to achieve dramatic savings on installation costs and make the process easier.

How does a solar co-op work?
Homeowners organize themselves into a group and developed a list of factors that are important to them when selecting a solar installer. CPN then solicits completive bids from area installers and provides technical expertise to assist the group as they select a single installer to complete all of the co-op’s installations.

Who is involved in organizing solar co-ops?
Neighbors and community members from all over the DMV are forming solar co-ops. For example, Fran Toler is a small business owner and is participating in the Hyattsville/Mt. Rainier Solar Co-op. She had first hand experience with how daunting the process of installing solar power on her home can be:

“I have been interested in solar energy for decades, but in the last 5-6 years, I felt like, with the tax incentives, I should be able to make it work. Nonetheless, on several different occasions I contacted companies, solicited bids, and each time got stalled in the process,” Fran explains.

Fran highlighted a number of advantages to working with a group purchase solar co-op model that CPN facilitates.

“One, I got to work with friendly helpful people who explained the technical aspects and guided me through the process, but weren’t trying to sell me anything. Two, I got to efficiently and painlessly compare complex bids from multiple companies. Three, I got an astonishingly fantastic price break, reducing the need for financing. I love getting a bargain!”

As a small business owner herself, Fran also appreciates the important role the large scale of such solar co-ops can play in creating work and jobs for area solar installers.

“As a small business owner, I understand how difficult it can be to build capacity and a great reputation. These bulk purchases should allow a smaller company who might be ready to take the next step into larger contracts work with a group that isn’t expecting the same level of efficiency and expertise that a government or corporate contract would.”

She also noted the positive business impact that building a strong reputation with third party consumer advocacy groups such as CPN and CPN’s state programs: DC SUN, MD SUN, and VA SUN.

CPN has helped community members form 15 solar co-ops in Washington, D.C., and several more in Maryland and Virginia.