When the sun shines again in our area, it will bring more than just a smile to residents of the Allegheny River counties of Etna, Sharpsburg and Millvale.
The Triboro communities are the closest places Solar United Neighbors (SUN) is offering a solar collaboration to make buying solar panels on the roof of residential buildings easier and cheaper. SUN state program director Henry McKay says anyone in Allegheny County can join this cooperative.
“The problem the Solar Cooperation is trying to solve is that while rooftop solar power is cheaper than it used to be and easier to run as a consumer, it can still be quite expensive and intimidating,” McKay says. “A lot of people are still not confident that they can invest in solar and make it work for them.”
Pittsburgh is known for its cloudy days, but solar panels can still be worth it, McKay says. “They work perfectly here. We have more than enough sun to make solar economical here. “
SUN has operated cooperatives twice in Allegheny County. The group informs consumers through presentations and then supports those who express interest in having a solar installer set up. Buying as a group ensures a competitive price for quality systems.
Three information events are planned for next month:
“Anyone willing to run solar can sign up – it's free,” says McKay. “We'll give you access to a group price offer and technical support, and answer questions.”
Etna's project manager, Talia O'Brien, said the district's climate change plan approved in October set the goal of increasing the number of solar panels on the roof. Etna has 11 existing solar projects and has just installed a solar carport in its communal garden and a charging station for electric vehicles.
“We hope to get at least 50 people to sign up,” says O'Brien, who researched SUN and then spoke to the other counties.
“We keep hearing from residents and business owners looking to improve their environmental impact,” said Brittany Reno, executive director of the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization. “We believe this will be a stress-free way for local people to think about solar power, learn more about the process with their neighbors, and see if it can save them money in the long term.”
Once people join the cooperative, a volunteer committee will review offers from solar installers and select the provider they believe offers the best deal. Although some of the panels and appliances may be made overseas, the installers generally hail from western Pennsylvania, McKay says.
Joining the cooperative does not oblige the members to buy anything. You have the option of purchasing panels and chargers for electric vehicles individually at a group rate. In addition to Sharpsburg and Mount Etna, the cooperative's other two partners will be Millvale Community Development Corporation and Triboro Ecodistrict-New Sun Rising. Residents of neighboring communities can be invited to join the cooperative as it progresses.
As of 2018, SUN has hosted a dozen solar collaborations in Pennsylvania, resulting in 79 homes and businesses using solar panels. That equates to an estimated 730 kilowatts of solar energy, $ 1.9 million in local solar spending and more than 19 million pounds of lifelong carbon offsetting, the organization said.
A typical solar array can cost a homeowner $ 20,000, but a one-time tax credit cuts that cost by $ 5,000. The solar system is connected to the power supply panel of the house and keeps the house connected to the mains. Financing is provided by banks or the Clean Energy Credit Union.
That collaboration will remain open to members until July 30, McKay says, although an installer will likely be selected by May. The installations begin in the summer with the aim of completing all projects by the end of 2021.