Solar ‘co-op’ discussed in Lowry Hill East

Solar panels line a rooftop in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood. A group of neighbors there are looking to install panels on their homes this year. Submitted photo
Solar panels line a rooftop in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood. A group of neighbors there are looking to install panels on their homes this year. Submitted photo

A group of Lowry Hill East property owners is looking to leverage its purchasing power to install solar panels at a discounted rate.

The group is working with the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors to find a firm that will install panels on their homes and businesses. The goal is to drive down costs by purchasing equipment in bulk and using one installer, Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Board Member Karlee Weinmann said.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand, based on what we’ve seen in our neighborhood,” Weinmann said. “What we’ve been trying to do so far is just really capture that interest and turn that interest into reality.”

Solar United Neighbors, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, helps people in eight states and D.C. organize solar “co-ops.” The co-ops are typically groups of between 50 and 100 neighbors who are interested in installing solar panels.

The Lowry Hill East group would be the first Solar United Neighbors co-op in Minnesota.

Solar United Neighbors issues requests for proposals on behalf of co-ops once they hit 30 members. The members choose a single installer for all of their projects.

Co-op members in other states have seen savings of between 20 and 45 percent, said Virginia Rutter, Solar United Neighbors’ Minnesota program director. She said she’s unsure what the savings would be in Minnesota.

Solar United Neighbors does not support one installer over another, Rutter said. The organization provides education on solar to co-op members and does legwork such as calling installers’ references. It also helps set up home visits for members to determine if their properties are suitable for solar panels.

The organization does not charge co-op members for its services, and there is no cost to join a co-op.

Installers pay Solar United Neighbors a fee based on each signed contract. The organization generates funding through those fees as well as partnerships with local governments, Rutter said. The bulk of its revenue comes through grants.

Solar panels typically produce electricity for 25 years, according to the organization. System owners typically pay off their initial investments in 10 to 12 years, Rutter said.

The system owners use the electricity as they generate it, Rutter said. If they need more than they generate, they’ll tap the local power grid. If use less than they generate, the excess electricity goes onto the grid. Utility companies then credit system owners for that extra electricity.

Weinmann said in early December that the new co-op isn’t limited to Lowry Hill East residents. About 20 people attended an informational meeting on Nov. 30, she said.

Rutter said her organization is hoping to issue the RFP for the Lowry Hill East group early in 2018. Her organization would give installers two weeks to respond.

Visit solarunitedneighbors.org/minnesota/go-solar-in-minnesota/go-solar-in-a-minnesota-group/uptown-solar-co-op/ to learn more about the co-op.

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