How to build a successful solar co-op

Active community members are a critical component in making a solar group purchase successful. Solarize Harrisonburg, a project of Community Power Network and part of the VA SUN, succeeded with the help of many such members. I spoke with one, Joy Loving, about her experience. Loving came to help Solarize Harrisonburg through her involvement with an organization called Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV).

“I began thinking about ways to increase the solar footprint in my part of the Valley,” Loving said. She reached out to several area organizations to search for like-minded folks. Her search led her to CAAV. About the same time, a successful solarize program in nearby Blacksburg, Virginia caught the group’s attention.

Loving helped CAAV organize the group’s solarize launch meeting in June of 2014. She then assumed a leadership role, with much help from other CAAV members.

Loving and CAAV promoted the meeting in several ways: They drafted a press release, distributed flyers to downtown Harrisonburg businesses and communicated with their membership and the membership of like-minded groups through email list.

“That meeting was a first-attempt, feel-our-way experiment, but the response was, I thought, incredible. I was stunned!” said Loving. “And I continued to be amazed at the strong showing at the second and third public meetings.”

In the end, the co-op helped 67 Harrisonburg residents go solar. This success spurred the group to launch a second round.

When asked what advice she would give for anyone wanting to “go solar,” Loving provided a three-part answer:

  • First and foremost, you want your home to be as energy efficient as possible before you go down the solar road;
  • Know your reason(s) in wanting solar;
  • Learn what you can about your state’s renewable energy policies and laws.

“Your primary purpose could be to lower your electric bill, exercise your personal choice in using solar to meet your energy needs, reduce your carbon footprint, and/or enhance your energy security,” Loving said.

“Regardless, you will want to understand how much electricity you use each month and what portion of your electric bill is for that usage,” Loving said. She also urged homeowners to educate themselves about how solar photovoltaic systems work and about the various incentives available for your system is beneficial when speaking with installers about your home and will help you assess your payback period.

Finally, Loving encouraged folks interested in solar to consider joining a local solarize effort with friends and neighbors. This way you can use bulk purchasing power to lower your installation costs. If one doesn’t exist in your area, you can take Joy’s lead and help start your own. Learn how here.

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