One of my favorite tasks as the new Program Director for Solar United Neighbors of Maryland is to meet all the solar supporters that makes our community so strong. Just a few weeks ago, I set out on a tour to meet a few of the participants in our Bowie Solar Co-op who recently installed their solar systems. Just like many of you, I am new to the Solar Co-Op process, so I learned a lot by talking to these co-op participants and checking on their systems firsthand.
I learned that co-op participants are a motivated, passionate, and diverse group who are enthusiastic about helping their communities share in the benefits of going solar. More than one homeowner presented their latest energy bill to show me just how much they have saved even when their systems have only been on for a month or two, many also expressed interest in reaching out to their neighbors to help more people go solar as part of future solar co-ops.
As in many large projects, there can be a few bumps in the road of going solar. Many homeowners had their own bumpy stories—large trees that had to fall on their own, HOAs that weren’t enthusiastic, or e-mails that ended up in a spam folder. But, even with these bumps in the road, everyone I talked to was still proud and excited about their new solar systems.
Here are just a few of the amazing people that I met on my site visit tour.
My first stop was to see Anne Douglas. A self-proclaimed science nerd, she was more than happy to show me her latest energy bill, which included a dramatic decrease in usage over the last two months thanks to her new solar system. Anne explained to me that, until recently, solar was not an option for her home due to shading from the large tree in her neighbor’s yard. But once the tree fell, her roof became ideal for solar.
Next, I picked up former Maryland Program Director Corey Ramsden and we drove to see John Ficklin. John showed us how he tracks his usage and generation on his computer, allowing him to understand the positive impact of changing from traditional lightbulbs to LEDs on his energy usage. Since installing solar and tracking his consumption, John has become more focused on increasing energy efficiency in his home. Beyond the usual energy savings that come with going solar, John enjoyed a unique perk from the process. Because he used a credit card to purchase his system before paying it off, John accrued enough points to purchase two plane tickets for a Hawaiian vacation with his wife. You read that right: John’s solar system sent him to Hawaii!
We then caught up with Ashleigh Armentrout, sustainability planner from the City of Bowie and one of our partners for the Bowie Solar Co-op, before heading over to Leo Espinal’s house. Leo showed us to the mobile app he uses to track his energy usage on the go, and explained how he heard about the solar co-op from a friend. Word-of-mouth is an essential tool in spreading the word about going solar, and Leo has agreed to help us further engage the Latino community in the area about future solar co-ops.
After a quick lunch at WAWA, Corey and I then headed to see Alonzo Mable. Alonzo showed off his system and his fancy Christmas decorations, while sharing a few ideas about how we can better educate HOAs and community associations about the benefits of going solar.
Our last homeowner was Mary Jane Stevens. Mary Jane went solar as a labor of love. For her, any energy savings is just icing on the cake (she already takes many steps to ensure energy efficiency, like air drying her clothes on a line outside). She expressed an interest in making solar more accessible to all people, no matter their income or economic status. Since increasing equity and inclusion in the solar market is one of our goals at Solar United Neighbors, we couldn’t agree more—and will likely be calling on our amazing volunteers like Mary Jane to help make this goal a reality!
I can’t thank these co-op participants enough for opening their homes, sharing their solar stories and teaching me so much. We’ll have to do it again soon!