Solar cooperative cuts costs through collective bargaining | Local

Coconino County and the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona have partnered with the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors (SUN) to launch a second solar cooperative in northern Arizona.

The cooperative is a free, no-obligation collective that educates members on residential solar installation and uses group leverage to purchase individual solar systems at a competitive rate. The cooperative will be open to new members until June 30.

The cooperative operates according to a fairly simple process. Members receive free training on residential solar systems and funding from SUN. Once the cooperative has about 30 members, SUN solicits proposals from solar installers in the area. A committee of co-op members then selects a company to install everyone’s systems at a group rate.

From there, the installer works directly with co-op members to develop site-specific plans and an installation schedule. Joining the cooperative does not commit members to going solar, but it does give them the opportunity to learn and access negotiated group rates.

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Northern Arizona’s latest solar co-op was “a big first step” for the city of Flagstaff’s carbon neutral goals, said Nicole Antonopoulos, the city’s director of sustainability. Antonopoulos said Flagstaff’s sustainability program has identified a need for 10 megawatts of clean energy in order to meet carbon neutral goals. The 83 households that installed solar systems through the latest cooperative are now generating about 640 kilowatts, or about 6% of the city’s 10-megawatt goal.

According to Antonopoulos, those who participated in the cooperative were able to negotiate a discount of around 20% on solar systems from the Flagstaff installer Rooftop Solar.

“Cooperatives like this are a powerful tool to advance residential solar energy at a bulk purchase price,” Antonopoulos said.

Kevin Brown shows off his solar power installation at his Flagstaff home on Wednesday morning. Brown’s system, part of the Solar United Co-Op program that allows residents to install solar energy at a lower cost, has been online since July 2021.

Rachel Gibbons, Arizona Daily Sun

Flagstaff resident Kevin Brown got his 24-panel, 8.4-kilowatt system through his membership in Northern Arizona’s Last Solar Cooperative. A former teacher and administrator, Brown said investing in clean energy is a necessary step for the health of our planet that lacks top-down political will.

“The co-op is ideal for a bottom-up approach,” Brown said. “The more people who install solar power, the more politically viable it becomes.”

For Brown, the process of working with the co-op and Rooftop Solar was highly personalized to his needs. He said the installer spent time with him to assess the most effective and attractive location for his panels and was willing to work with him and his values. For example, they explored the option of some floor panels that would have benefited from the removal of a tree.

“But there was an owl that likes to roost there,” Brown said. “So we decided it wouldn’t work.”

Brown is also pleased to report that with his new solar panels, he is able to generate enough power to resell to Arizona Public Services (APS).

Last month, his electric bill was a $63 credit.

“We’re excited to save money on our electric bills and make a positive ecological difference,” Brown said.

Solar power makes “complete sense” for Arizonans, said Bret Fanshaw, Arizona program director for SUN. “Everyone who lives here knows how much sunshine we get.”

SUN has hosted 10 solar co-ops in Arizona since 2019. The group estimates that the 289 homes and businesses that now have solar panels thanks to the co-ops represent more than 2 megawatts of solar power, $6.5 million in solar spend and over 400,000 metric tons of lifetime carbon offsets. That’s about as much carbon as 18 million trees can sequester in a year.

The cost of solar is also falling. Ten years ago, the average 6 kilowatt-hour system would have cost over $50,000. Now, a similar system is probably between $16,000 and $20,000, not including possible rebates through co-ops and federal tax credits.

“Now is a particularly good time to go solar,” SUN wrote in a statement about the new cooperative. “The federal tax credit for solar energy is supposed to drop at the end of this year. This means that switching to solar power in the next two months will ensure homeowners save the maximum amount, while next year those savings could decline.

Currently, the federal tax credit for solar installations and other renewable energy systems is 26%. This number is expected to drop to 22% in 2023.

The cooperative currently has 35 registered members.

A free virtual information meeting is scheduled for Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m. Those interested in going solar can register for the cooperative or the next information session on the cooperative’s webpage /naz2022.

About Andrew Estofan

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