Solar power group seeks Crawford residents for co-op - Titusville Herald: News

Solar power group seeks Crawford residents for co-op

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Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 5:00 am

At a museum celebrating the birth of the oil industry, a group dedicated to a new kind of energy made its pitch to Crawford County residents.

Solar United Neighbors (SUN), a national organization based out of Washington D.C., held an information session at the Drake Well Museum, Monday. The purpose of the session was to inform people about the Crawford County Solar Co-op and draw those interested in participating.

A solar co-op is essentially a collection of residents who join together to collectively switch to solar power. By joining up like this, the residents are able to purchase and install the solar panels at a bulk rate, according to SUN Pennsylvania Program Director Henry McKay.

McKay, who led the session, detailed the roughly eight month process co-ops go on their path to “going solar.”

The process begins with SUN going around and attempting to get people to sign-up for the co-op. Once the co-op has at least 30 people signed up, SUN will begin soliciting bids from solar installation companies. A group of representatives from the co-op will open these bids and choose one to be awarded the contract.

McKay said that, once the contract is awarded, the installer will have to go acquire the proper permits to perform the installation, which can take some amount of time. However, once the permits are received, physical installation of the solar panels only takes between two to three days.

In an interview after the session, McKay said that there is a fairly large number of solar panel companies in Western Pennsylvania, particularly in Erie and Pittsburgh, and a few in Ohio, who would likely vie for the Crawford County Solar Co-op contract. He further said that Pennsylvania actually saw a 25 percent increase in solar jobs over the past year.

The benefit to using solar panels, according to McKay, is that they allow the homeowner to take cost of their electric bill through a process known as net metering.

Homes equipped with solar panels will use electricity generated from solar panels first before taking any power from the grid. McKay said that, in summer months, homes will often use almost purely solar power, with the excess energy feeding back into the general electric grid.

Utility companies are required to reimburse people who give back to the electric grid in this way, either through a check at the end of the year, or with money taken off electric bills in the winter months, when solar panels cannot solely power a home.

“It still is nice to get paid by the utility you’ve been paying all your life,” McKay said.

Solar panels have an effective life span of 25 years, according to McKay, and pay off for themselves in around 12 years in Pennsylvania, if purchased with one’s own money. Those interested in solar can also purchase them with solar-specific loans, which have a lower net profit after 25 years, but avoid the high upfront cost.

While panels do continue to work after 25 years, they begin to lose efficiency over time at that point.

As an additional incentive, McKay said the federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of switching a building to solar power through 2019.

McKay said that most homes install between 2-12 kW systems. In terms of costs, a 4 kW system comes to around $11,000, though that drops to $7,700 after the tax credit. At the end of its 25-year life span, that system will amount to $14,000 in profit through savings on electric bills.

Those unable to make those costs also have an alternative method to acquiring solar panels. Power purchase agreements are a method whereby a company installs a solar panel on a building for free, and the owner merely pays the installation company for the cost of power. While this does mean paying two separate electric bills, McKay said that the two combined are less than going purely off utility power.

There are, however, a few qualities that are needed for the best solar experience, according to McKay. Buildings with panels installed should face ideally face south, or possibly eastward for most sun exposure. Roofs should be less than 10 years old, have little shade on them and have a large, uninterrupted surface on which to place the panels.

Solar panels are low maintenance, according to McKay, as they do not have moving parts. Their black surface allows them to melt snow, and rain is usually all that’s needed to clean pollen or dust off of their surfaces.

McKay also said that, despite popular perception, solar panels do not allow a building to continue using electricity when the power grid goes out. Panels are shut off in case of a power outage so that they do not electrocute any workers trying to get power lines back up. However, there is the option of storing some solar power in a battery to allow a few devices to continue working in case of an outage.

There will be another information session on July 16, at 7 p.m., at 145 Gray St., in Cambridge Springs.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

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