Each month (for many years) Lacy Kuller has been inviting environmental speakers to educate the community at Chesapeake Green Drinks. I used to attend on a regular basis in 2009-2010 when I was involved with Chesapeake through the Chamber of Commerce, but this is the first time I’ve been able to attend in many years. I was excited because this month’s topic was not only solar power, but about a local solar power co-op.
Aaron Sutch from VA SUN began the casual yet informative presentation by recapping why people shy away from solar power. 1) There are high upfront costs and 2) there are transaction barriers. Anya Schoolman started the Community Power Network, a 501(c)3 that assists communities in attaining solar power in 2007 when her son saw a movie that inspired the family to make a change towards the betterment of their future. At that time costs were 3 times higher for solar products. Anya’s son made flyers and they raised support from 60 of their neighbors to go solar. The non-profit, now is in 3 states plus D.C., has helped establish 37 cooperatives (including Blacksburg and Harrisonburg.)
image | VA SUN
Aaron said there are currently 30 people in Virginia Beach interested in starting a solar co-op. When you confine the co-op to one geographic area it makes it easier for permitting. In order to get started the group must build critical mass and then VA SUN will help send out an RFP for bids from installers. There is usually a 30 day period to receive bids. The co-op then votes on the bids. Aaron facilitates the votes, but does not vote himself. This is how VA SUN assists with easing transaction barriers. Once the bid is selected by members of the co-op, the members sign a contract and now are locked-in to the agreement. But Aaron emphasized that the “most important step is a celebration party!” Businesses aren’t excluded from joining the co-op, but the decision maker and property owner must be the co-op member.
And what’s not to celebrate? Solar panels have a 30 year life span, no moving parts and are low maintenance. Pollen and bird droppings rinse off and even sand will practically clean itself away because we have plenty of wind and rain. Richard Good of Solar Services Inc. commented that in 1997 during an infamous hail storm he had to replace 1 panel of the 20,000 that were here at that time. Aaron reiterated the sturdiness of the panels saying. “if the solar panel ripped off, the roof ripped off” because they are built for up to 140 mph winds.
image | Solar Services, Inc.
There are two types of solar energy. Thermal, which can heat water or heat a building; and photovoltaic, which is harvesting energy from light. This solar electric system plugs into a grid (Dominion Power), but participants could also get a battery pack. There is also a hybrid option. Aaron stated that solar system “batteries are improving by leaps and bounds” and homeowners could always get a battery later down the line. David Goolie, a local solar power enthusiast, commented that, “if power goes out you lose electricity unless you have a hybrid system.” Most installers monitor your system’s efficiency for you, but you can also monitor your system remotely. Aaron expanded that running the system during a power outage is a hazard to workers on the grid when power is down.
The system for the Virginia Beach co-op consists of silicon panels which weigh about 40 lbs. Members also need an inverter to change the DC produced into AC for homeowners to use. You can get a big box or micro converters. Most panels have a 10-12 year warranty and many home insurance companies cover them in addition to other external improvements. Some homeowners even saw their insurance prices go down.
So can you save money?! Richard commented that “Germany produces 50% of their nation’s power in the summer from solar.” If you create the same or more energy that you use, you basically start spinning your meter backwards. Dominion Power will pay you for some excess energy that you produce. Act fast because the 30% Federal Tax Incentive is ending after 2015. Virginia doesn’t have tax incentives at this time.
Aaron will be speaking again on August 13. For more information, visit here.