Going solar

Co-op offers residents, businesses an opportunity to get group pricing, education on solar installation

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Stacey Decker believes that people in Denver want to do what they can to help reduce negative impacts to the environment.

“Denver is a forward-thinking community,” she said. “Many people are realizing the benefits of energy independence.”

Decker is a homeowner in Denver’s Wellshire neighborhood. She has lived in her home for about five years and had an interest in converting to solar power. But the initial research she did on her own found it to be too expensive.

Then, in the summer of 2019, Decker learned of a new co-op by a nonprofit organization called Solar United Neighbors (SUN) that helps people and small businesses go solar. She signed up right away, and in March, had 26 solar panels installed in three different spots on her home.

These panels provide the Decker family with more than enough power to meet their electric needs — including charging an electric car, Decker said.

“Since going solar, we’re saving money each month and reducing our carbon footprint,” Decker said. “It’s a real win-win.”

SUN works nationwide, and has its Colorado office based in Denver. The organization recently launched its second co-op to specifically serve Denver’s residents and small businesses. Membership to the co-op will be open through Feb. 1.

For the co-op, SUN is partnering with the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency; Alpine Bank; Colorado Renewable Energy Society; Vote Solar; Physicians for Social Responsibility-Colorado; New Energy Colorado; and the Northside Sustainability Alliance.

How it works is first people sign up to become a member of the co-op for free and with no obligation. Becoming a member is simply so people can learn “what going solar means to them,” said Bryce Carter, SUN’s Colorado program director. Members of last year’s co-op ranged from those who already had going solar on their minds to those looking into it for the first time, Carter said.

Once enough people and businesses have signed up, SUN issues a Request for Proposals to local providers. SUN staff then reviews the proposals — this review process entails looking into each provider’s licensing credentials and other important verifications.

SUN then provides an “apples-to-apples” comparison of each proposal to the co-op members, Carter said. It is the members who select the single solar company that will complete all the installations for the co-op members. The co-op members then have the option to individually purchase a solar system and electric vehicle chargers based on the installer’s group rate.

Joining the co-op does not obligate members to purchase solar, Carter said. If, for whatever reason, a person or small business decides not to go solar, they can walk away, he added.

“We are an advocate on behalf of our members,” Carter said. “We’re there to answer all of their questions.”

SUN remains vendor-neutral while streamlining the process, providing quality control, helping to determine possible cost savings, networking among members and providing any necessary education about going solar, including information about equipment, Carter said. He added SUN is happy to work with Registered Neighborhood Organizations and other community groups to provide talks or meetings — which can be done virtually — so people can learn more about the co-op and/or going solar.

Since SUN’s launch in Colorado in 2019, SUN has facilitated five solar co-ops throughout the state. Those five co-ops have helped about 150 families and businesses go solar — about 25 of them were members of Denver’s 2019 co-op.

Even though the cost of installing solar has gone down by about 90% in the past decade, Decker said, it is still a major investment for people.

“It feels nice to do it as a community (because) doing it as a group affects our net impact,” Decker said. “But the cost savings are what makes a lot of sense for individual homeowners.”

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