Solar is on the rise, both in sales and in the minds of consumers, because of lower costs, advancing technology, more local installers and now, more power co-ops are coming to neighborhoods in rural areas.
Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit with headquarters in Washington, D.C., has been busy since 2007 helping to organize blocs of home and business owners in eight states and the District of Columbia to get the best solar energy deal.
Retired science teacher Attilia Shumaker admits she wanted to go solar for years, but it wasn’t until this year that the pieces fell in place, helping her commit to plugging into the sun that shines on her backyard near Nineveh. Solar panels run on ultraviolet rays, which penetrate clouds, so local weather has less to do with production than the uninterrupted reception of an array of panels aligned with the sun.
“My roof pitch is angled the wrong way to capture east and west light so I’m putting my panels in the yard over there,” she said, pointing past her last flower garden to the clearing above.
Shumaker is proud to wear her Sun United Neighbors membership T-shirt and has a yard sign in her driveway for all her neighbors to see. Installing panels and lowering electric bills has become a whole lot easier – and cheaper, thanks to bulk purchasing power. Shumaker said she “saw the light” when she attended the third annual West Virginia Solar Congress at Wheeling Community College May 5 and her dream of going solar became a real plan of action.
At the meeting, both West Virginia and Pennsylvania SUN program directors lead workshops, gave presentations and answered questions about everything from battery storage and how panels work to tax incentives and financing. Those who attended were offered a chance to be part of the Upper Ohio Co-op, plan their projects and bargain with local installers and distributers.
Shumaker went home with notes and fliers and began talking to her neighbors. After attending another information meeting in Canonsburg, she was ready to have her land pulled up on Google Earth and investigated for its solar capacity as she began the process of putting sunlight to work for her.
Upper Ohio Co-Op was launched in February and has held education outreach sessions around the area in technology, the co-op process and solar economics and finance. It now has more than 30 members, enough to bid the work out to local installers. But there is still room for more people ready to go solar, Pennsylvania’s program coordinator Andrea Hylant said.
An informational meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Cornerstone Ministry dining hall, 381 Willis Road, Jefferson. The deadline to participate in the co-op is Oct. 24.
“This is the last session we’ll have before the deadline,” she said. “All information from our sessions is online and you can join up to that date.”
Upper Ohio Valley Solar Co-op is open to Washington and Greene counties, as well as Marshall, Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia’s northern panhandle and Belmont, Jefferson and Columbiana counties in Ohio.