Why Solar United Neighbors? A Q & A with Executive Director, Anya Schoolman

By Ben Delman on October 19, 2017

At the beginning of October, Community Power Network, and its associated state programs announced three big changes: a new name for the organization, Solar United Neighbors, a new membership program, and the expansion into three new states – New Jersey, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. Solar United Neighbors Executive Director, Anya Schoolman discusses these changes and how the organization is working to create an energy system that benefits everyone with rooftop solar at the cornerstone.

These are big changes for the organization – why now?

Our energy system is undergoing a fundamental change. Now is the time to make sure distributed energy generation like rooftop solar is at the cornerstone of this change. Investor-owned utilities are focused on their profits, not on how an energy system can be more equitable and beneficial to our communities. We are creating a powerful force of solar advocates with the scale and influence to ensure our energy system works for all of us. 

Why change the organization’s name?

Changing our name to Solar United Neighbors reflects our desire to both help people go solar and build a nationwide force of solar supporters to fight for our energy rights. Working locally, we’ll continue to educate more people about the benefits of solar so that they feel confident to go solar themselves. Combining all our state programs under one name better reflects the power of our organization as we stand up to monopoly utilities and protect our solar rights in state legislatures and public service commissions across the country.

On top of this, we’re adding a new membership program that will help us rapidly increase the number of people we can help go solar and bring into the solar movement.

What is the role of the organization’s membership program?

Our membership program is the foundation of a growing movement for locally produced solar energy. It is designed to help more people go solar, give them the help and support they need over the lifetime of their system, and create a powerful force of solar supporters that protects the value of their investment in solar energy. People are really excited and eager to go solar. Membership gives them a community where they can meet, learn and have fun with solar homeowners and supporters just like them.

What are the benefits of being a Solar United Neighbors member?

Membership offers benefits across the full lifetime of a solar energy system. We now offer two choices for getting help going solar – either through our traditional group co-op program or now by getting one-on-one help from our solar Help Desk. In both cases we provide expert, vendor-neutral support every step of the process. This gives people the confidence they need to go solar.

Membership benefits extend long after installation. We educate members about emerging technology, answer questions about on-going system performance, and fight to protect policies that ensure people are fairly compensated for the energy they produce. We alert members to new programs and incentives that can help them better control the energy they produce and use. And, members get special discounts at businesses that have installed solar – everything from local markets and breweries to retailers and bed & breakfasts.

Members are part of a community of solar supporters that provides a wide range of opportunities to get involved. This includes spreading the word about solar in your community and advocacy campaigns that impact the debate in state legislatures. Members can play a leading role in our efforts, or just have the peace of mind that they are strengthening our ability to protect and expand solar energy in their community.

What other changes are happening with the organization?

Our programs continue to show great success. Our newest state, Florida, is growing rapidly We’ll have launched three new state programs by the end of the year: Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We will look to continue this expansion over the next several years with the goal of being in all 50 states by 2023. You can help us by signing up to be a founding member in your state. In addition to this geographic growth, we’re constantly looking at ways we can help homeowners benefit from a fairer, more distributed electric grid. This includes things like electric vehicles, demand response, and battery storage. This is an exciting time to be helping people take control of where their electricity comes from!