Earth Notes: Solar Co-ops
There are a lot of ways to go solar, including joining a solar co-op. The basic idea is that there’s power – and financial incentive – in numbers. Cooperative purchasing programs can lower the cost of solar panels and other equipment by offering bulk discounts to groups of home and business owners.
The national non-profit Solar United Neighbors, or SUN, launched a co-op program in 2007 to make going solar more affordable and transparent. Earlier this year, SUN created the Northern Arizona Solar Co-op, which includes the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, as well as Coconino County.
Membership requires no dues or obligations to purchase photovoltaic panels. A co-op can leverage the cost of going solar by choosing individual energy systems at a discounted group price. Co-op committees then review bids and select a company to do the work at a bulk rate, typically about 15% below market prices, according to SUN.
The decision, however, is not based solely on price, but also equipment quality, warranties, experience and local presence. SUN facilitates the competitive bidding for co-ops, but stays vendor-neutral. Then, individual contracts are completed with each member who decides to participate.
SUN also provides information on everything from panel installation and maintenance, to payback times, tax credits and other incentives. Information about joining a solar co-op is at www.solarunitedneighbors.org.