Solar co-op shines light on home power conversions

A solar co-op is helping Cuyahoga County homeowners convert to renewable energy by arranging group discounts, but the cost remains prohibitive for many. Several changes in the process have occurred since FreshWater Cleveland wrote about it in March 2017.

Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit group that recruits people interested in switching their homes to solar power, is helping to lay the groundwork in Northeast Ohio. Informational sessions are planned for Tuesday, Nov. 12, in North Olmsted, and Thursday, Nov. 14, in Chagrin Falls, and the latter session will be live streamed online.

The goal is to “build a new energy system from the ground up,” says Tristan Rader, Ohio program director for Solar United Neighbors. “We have a select few monopolies that control our energy grid. We want to empower people to make choices for themselves.”

The group, which is working in tandem with the county’s Department of Sustainability, has issued a request for proposals to installers. The deadline for homeowners to join this latest countywide cluster is Feb. 14.

Michael Foley, Director of the New Department of SustainabilityThe federal tax credit of 30% will fall to 26% at the start of 2020, says Mike Foley, the Department of Sustainability’s director. Installers are scrambling to meet that deadline, he says, and it’s probably too late to qualify for 30% if you decide to buy a solar roof system today, because of a backlog, he says.

In Ohio, it costs about $15,000 to buy and install a 6-kilowatt system, Foley says. “One of the problems with solar is you have to own it,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense for everyone. A lot of folks are interested in it but don’t have $10,000 to $20,000 to spend on it.”

So far, only about 100 homes in the county have made the switch. “I wish it could be 50 times that,” Foley says.

It does work for some. “Depending on how you finance it, it can be a long-term investment,” he says.

Solar panels gradually wear out. After 25 years, they still collect 80% of the energy they brought in when they were new, he says. So they will pay for themselves over time. “The payback for solar in Ohio is 10 to 11 years, if you buy the panels,” he says. “So it is cheaper in the long run than buying your electricity.”

The county has invested in the alternative technology. It has converted three county buildings, a recreation center and a service garage. And it gets 8 to 10% of its energy from its Brooklyn Solar Landfill Array, built on 17 acres in 2018. The project will save the county $3 million over 25 years, it says.

But renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind only generate 3% of Ohio’s electricity, Foley says. “We cannot afford to rely on fossil fuels. Wind and solar energy have to be the way of the future.”

Read more articles by Morgan Dunlop.

Morgan Dunlop, a Pittsburgh native, is a senior journalism major at Kent State University. He was a sports reporter for the student newspaper the Kent Stater. He also has covered public policy and administration and is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
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