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Guest Post – Solar Coops Emerge in the District: Is There a Bright Future?

by Prince Of Petworth March 12, 2010 at 11:30 am 15 Comments

1 - Solar Photovoltaic Panels

The following guest post was written by Amber Wason from Green DC Realty.

Mount Pleasant Solar Coop is born…

In September of 2006, Mount Pleasant resident, Jeff Morley, was dragged to see An Inconvenient Truth by his (then) 12 year-old son, Diego. Impacted by the documentary, the boy and his friend carried the discussion home, and what began as a dinner table discussion resulted in a promise to do something about it.

In response, neighbors, Jeff Morley and Anya Schoolman, and their teenage sons, Walter Lynn and Diego Arene-Morley, founded the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop. It is their answer to addressing the sense of urgency to do something to reduce their impact on global warming.

They were led to the coop model for two reasons: first, they figured if they were going to go through the work of figuring out how to install solar technology, they should include more people and have a bigger impact. Second, they needed a way to bring down the cost, and hoped through bulk purchasing they could share expenses and expertise with neighbors.

They began with ambitious goals and thought it was feasible to have something up and running within a year. While sounding reasonable, the early contributors learned that they would face many obstacles; a steep learning curve around this topic of solar. They resiliently unbundled the prohibiting factors solar presents to homeowners, addressing each one individually and holistically. Their persistent efforts paid off as the group celebrated completing 47 solar installations in the fall of 2009.

The remarkable efforts of this group serve to be an example for other groups in DC, and late in 2008, we saw a second coop model emerge in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Then came the Capitol Hill Energy Cooperative…

In 2008, homeowners, businesses, and churches in the Capitol Hill neighborhood decided they too wanted to do something to address climate change and lower energy bills. Your browser may not support display of this image.

Continues after the jump.

Luckily, they didn’t have to start from scratch and were able to replicate the model Mount Pleasant Solar Coop piloted. Mike Barrette, the resident solar expert for the Capitol Hill group explains, “Mt Pleasant helped us to get started, and we are now growing at a fast pace. We are working with Mt Pleasant to seek improvements to DC’s administration of the solar rebate program, and to get additional incentive programs for solar hot water. Our group is now well over 150, and the installations are beginning for the first few members. We just completed our 2nd installation through the co-op, and we should have more than ten completed by the summer.”

Mike goes on to explain that they have selected their own set of vendors through extensive evaluation, and that members are getting “an immediate payback after factoring in the three government rebates and subsidies available”.

Who is Next?

Both the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop and the Capitol Hill Energy Cooperative are proof that individuals can come together and make a big difference in their own backyards (or on their own rooftops!). The coop model has the ability to affect change by addressing the issues that prevent “solar enthusiasts” from becoming solar customers. The organizations provide as an unbiased source of information, and allow neighbors to celebrate in a BIG way when their individual efforts add up to impressive results.

Anya Schoolman of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop indicates that it’s a main priority of their group to support other co-ops to form all over DC. At a minimum they’d like to see one in each of the eight wards of the city, so that each can engage and influence one member of the City Council.

She encourages others to replicate their model, and goes on to offer specific words of wisdom:

“Get a strong core group to start, and include some kids in the core group. Buy an email management system. Be clear on what your goals are. Don’t be afraid to get political and get down deep in arcane rules, regulations, and technical details. If you get stuck, ask for help—you will be surprised how many others want you to succeed. Don’t take a path that won’t work for others…”

For anyone interested in bringing the co-op model to their neighborhood, Anya ([email protected]) is available for advice, or to give workshops on getting started.

Solar coops are off to a strong start in the district – we hope to see a bright future for solar in the neighborhoods of our Nation’s Capitol.

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