Earlier this year, 145 members of the University of Maryland and College Park community turned to solar power to take a bite out of their electricity bills. The group was started in early 2014 by University of Maryland Photovoltaics Research Scientist Bob Bartolo, who organized the UMD solar coop with the support of MD SUN and it’s parent organization Community Power Network (CPN). Bartolo had been interested in going solar for some time, but was daunted by process of finding a solar installer and navigating the various solar incentives and tax credits.
Two years earlier, Bartolo had attended a solar meeting where Washington, DC neighbors discussed using their collective buying power to leverage a discount from area installers. Organized by CPN, the group organized a competitive bidding process and selected one installer to complete everyone’s installations. By organizing into group and selecting a single installer the group saved over 30% on the cost of going solar and had the support of one another throughout the process.
Encouraged by the success of these efforts, Bartolo reached out to Anya Schoolman, Executive Director of MD SUN and CPN to see if it was possible to organize a University of Maryland co-op. Bartolo and Schoolman then met University’s Office of Sustainability to discuss making a the co-op a campus-wide effort for staff to go solar at their own homes. The University agreed to co-sponsor the effort and hosted a number of informational meetings to give staff and faculty an opportunity to learn more about solar.
By the end of February 2014 the group had grown to twenty homeowners and caught the attention of College Park’s Assistant City Manager, Bill Gardiner. Gardiner and the College Park Committee for a Better Environment (CBE) reached out to Bartolo and Schoolman and, after learning about the project, voted to also co-sponsor the effort.
“It really takes the guesswork and research out of the challenges of pursuing solar power for your home,” said CBE member and District 4 Councilman Alan Hew. With the CBE’s support and outreach via community meetings, municipal newsletters, television stations, and neighborhood listservs, the co-op has grown to more than 70 members.
In early May, fifteen volunteers from the group met to review bids from local installers and to select a single installer for the coop. After much deliberation the group selected Maryland-based Astrum Solar, a local company with a history offering experiential learning opportunities for UMD students. Throughout the summer members of the coop with Astrum to design their systems and sign contracts. Although each participant signs their own contract directly with Astrum, all co-op members receive the group discount.
With 145 participants signed up, Bartolo has been thrilled with the success of the co-op. “We’ve generated a ton of interest and its exciting to see so many community members come together to go solar together,” said Bartolo. Check out the University of Maryland Solar Coop’s website to learn more about the group and read coverage from other media outlets.