Sunshine-inclined residents save by going in on solar panels.—Rachel Kurzius
The Arlington Solar Co-op has officially moved into its execution stage. One hundred participants have chosen an installer and will begin to meet individually with EDGE Energy to get solar panels on their roofs.
By going through all of the steps together and bidding as a group, members of the co-op save about 30 percent on their installation costs.
“I like the idea of not doing this all on our own,” says co-op member Thomas Salander. “This seems to bring more order to the process, which is otherwise pretty daunting.”
The city of Arlington’s Energy Department, along with Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, reached out to nonprofit Virginia Sun in the fall. The community solar organization helps communities organize their co-ops and evaluate the bids they receive, as well as educate them about tax credits and other aspects. VA Sun currently has six co-ops in place.
For a co-op to reap the savings, it needs to have at least 20 to 30 members. The problem in organizing Arlington’s co-op was not the lack of people. Four information sessions from late fall through March were packed with residents curious about the opportunity. At the meeting in March, organizers had to haul in at least three new rows of chairs. But for solar energy to work properly, a person needs a “good roof” so the panels have direct access to the sun. That means they need to face south and, crucially for Arlington residents, they can’t be obstructed by shade.
“This is our Achilles heel in Arlington,” says Aaron Sutch, program director at VA Sun. He joked at one informational session that perhaps ACE’s tree canopy fund has been too successful.
After residents expressed interest in joining the co-op, they received a satellite assessment to see if their roof would pass muster. Of the 221 people who expressed interest, about 100 will be moving forward, according to Sutch. “There are a lot of maybes, as well.”
The co-op itself is nonbinding. Members could meet with the installer, decide they don’t like the individualized proposal and then choose not to move forward. Once a contract is signed with the installer, though, things get more firm (the co-op is not a signatory).
And what about the people who want solar but are saddled with a “bad roof”? Well, tough luck in Virginia. Nearby Washington, D.C., now allows for something called community shared solar—people can invest in panels on a community building, or someone with extra kilowatts could sell them to a neighbor. However, Virginia has a law on the books preventing individuals from becoming providers of utilities.
While VA Sun’s day-to-day involvement with the co-op ends when everyone has an installation in place, Sutch says that the “end goal is to get a critical mass of people committed to solar.” The idea is that this group of Arlingtonians will inspire others to look into the alternative energy and create a “virtuous cycle.”
“I’m quite concerned about my carbon footprint,” says co-op member Michael Beer. “Those of us with modest amounts of privilege need to step up.”