Solar co-op seeks participants in Hamilton County

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A Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit group has launched a co-op for residents and businesses in Hamilton County who want to install solar panels at a group rate.

The initiative, led by not-for-profit Solar United Neighbors, was announced Monday morning outside of a county resident’s home in Fishers with solar panels already installed. It follows the creation in April of a similar co-op in Indianapolis that already has nearly 70 participants.

Solar United Neighbors defines a solar co-op as “a group of homeowners in a defined geographic area who use their combined purchasing power to ensure they receive the most competitive solar installation,” according to the organization’s website.

“The more participants we have, the more leverage the residents have with solar contractors,” said Nick Seymour, communications coordinator for Solar United Neighbors.

The Hamilton County process has started with the launch of the co-op. Registration will be open to residents, including home and business owners in the county, until Oct. 31.

Solar United Neighbors will then help the co-op develop a request for proposals from local solar panel installation companies, creating a competitive bidding process.

Around the time of the deadline, co-op members form a selection committee to choose an installer for all participating members by settling on a base group price.

Each participating resident then works individually with the selection solar installer to determine a quote based on the agreed group price for their home or business roof.

Quotes depend on how much space is available on a roof, direct exposure to sunlight, how much participants wants to offset their electric bill with solar energy, and other factors.

The average solar installation in Hamilton County ranges in cost from $12,368 to $16,732, given a typical 5 kilowatt system, according to EnergySage, an online marketplace backed by the U.S. Department of Energy. A 5 kilowatt system consists of 20 panels covering a total of 104 square feet.

After accounting for the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit and other state and local solar incentives, the net price can fall by thousands of dollars.

Since its inception in 2007, Solar United Neighbors has helped start more than 200 co-ops in 13 states. It doesn’t make specific claims on how much the co-op process can save residents on installation, but it touts the benefits of having access to its experts on pricing, installation and financing.

A co-op can save homeowners an average of $35,000 on energy bills over 25 years and increase the value of a home by about $21,000, according to the company’s website.

“Joining the co-op is not an obligation to go solar, it’s completely free,” said Zach Schalk, Indiana program director at Solar United Neighbors.

As of Friday afternoon, there were three registrants already signed up to participate in Hamilton County’s co-op. Registration for residents to join the co-op has been open for a few days, but Monday’s event was a public launching of the initiative, Seymour told IBJ.

“We go where there are local community members and groups who are interested in working with us,” Schalk said. “We’ve helped golf courses, churches, bakeries.”

Solar United is partnering locally with not-for-profits including Solarize Indiana, Carmel Green Initiative and Westfield Green Together. It has the support of municipal officials in Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield, as well as the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

A Solar United Neighbors co-op was launched in Indianapolis in April and currently has 69 registered participants. Registration for the Indianapolis co-op is open for all Marion County residents and business owners until Aug. 30.

Schalk said he anticipates that all solar panel installations for the Indianapolis co-op will be complete by the end of the year or in early 2020. He said the entire process, from launch to last installation, usually takes between six and nine months.

Seymour told IBJ he anticipates the Hamilton County co-op to grow as successfully as its predecessor in Indianapolis.

“But it’s difficult to predict how big it will ultimately be,” Seymour said.

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