Community-powered solar has hit a terrific milestone. VA SUN, in partnership with co-ops in Washington, D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, has helped install a total of 10,000 kilowatts of solar. These state-based co-ops are under the umbrella of Community Power Network, an organization for people who want to take control of where their electricity comes from. These state-based solar co-op programs have helped more than 1,500 homeowners go solar.
“Nine years ago, my then 12-year-old son asked if we could install solar panels on our home,” said Anya Schoolman, Community Power Network’s Founder and Executive Director. “I had no idea at the time that eventually we’d be helping people across the country go solar. Our success is a testament to solar’s popularity and the desire of people to take control where their electricity comes from.”
Schoolman researched solar at her son’s suggestion. She found the process of going solar at the time was complicated and expensive. She realized that if she wanted to take her own home solar, it would be better to do so by working with her neighbors to go solar together. She helped launch the first solar co-op in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood in 2007. That group helped 45 homes go solar. Word about the group spread quickly across the city and several more co-ops launched. These groups formed D.C. Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN) in 2009 to advocate for a better solar market for all District residents. Community Power Network sprang from DC SUN in 2011 as people from across the country began to contact Anya for help in their own communities.
Community Power Network has worked with communities to develop more than 80 solar co-ops. The co-ops are groups of neighbors who join together to get a discount off the cost of going solar. Community Power Network’s state affiliates work with co-op members to educate them about solar. They also help co-op members solicit bids from area installers.
Co-op members then select which installer’s bid best serves the group’s needs. Community Power Network remains neutral throughout the process and acts as a consumer advocate, ensuring the installation process goes smoothly for co-op members. The installer selected by co-op members develops personalized proposals for each co-op participant. Co-op members can then decide if going solar is right for them. Co-op members can save as much as 20% off the cost of their installation by going solar with the co-op.
These savings come as a result of the group’s bulk purchasing power. The selected installer is able to offer installations at a discount because the co-ops complete the time-intensive task of recruiting and educating interested solar customers. Working with the large group of interested customers also allows the installer to purchase materials and pull permits in bulk.
Community Power Network’s solar co-ops have generated a significant amount of local investment and savings. Co-op members have spent more than $26 million on solar installations and have saved more than $5 million. In total, these systems will save more than 318 million pounds of carbon dioxide over their lifespans.