Power up: New co-op seeks to assist Upshur residents, businesses that want to ‘go solar’

BUCKHANNON – Solar United Neighbors is searching for people to join their Tucker, Randolph and Upshur 2022 solar co-op.

Leah Barbor, the state director with Solar United Neighbors in West Virginia, invited community members to learn more about the co-op during an information session at the Upshur County Public Library May 26.

“We are a 501C3 nonprofit and we have programming in 12 states and in D.C.,” Barbor said. “We organize around solar policy issues, so we’re not a solar installer. In fact, we are vendor-neutral, and in addition to expanding solar access to do our work on policy issues, we also focus on consumer advocacy, so we really represent people who have already gone solar and their interests and then also folks who want to go solar and solar access issues as well.”

The solar co-op in Tucker, Randolph and Upshur counties will focus on assisting homeowners and business owners who want to power their homes or workplaces with solar energy from the sun.

“We have helped over 160 people in West Virginia go solar since 2015, and that’s $3.3 million invested in solar, stimulating the local workforce and bringing jobs or at least, promoting folks to stay doing the good work that they’re doing, installing solar,” Barbor said.

They hope to gain 50 members for the Tucker, Randolph and Upshur co-op and during the session, they had already recruited 10 members. Barbor said typically the whole process takes about six to eight months from launch to the installation of the panels. The co-op launched two weeks before the May 26 informational session and the co-op closes to new members Aug. 31, 2022.

“West Virginia ratepayers are constantly burdened by increasing rates and rising energy bills and are often paying an outsize portion of their income on electric bills,” Barbor said. “The way I like to think about it is that local solar power generation helps you insulate yourself from these rising energy costs, and actually saves money for decades into the future.”

The co-op is designed to help the whole group get a good deal on the solar installation as well.

“We’ve consciously developed this co-op process over time to achieve consistent results that benefit our members, so their process aggregates a group of consumers together and they go solar through one competitively selective installer — that way you can save money” Barbor said. “We do consistently see that by leveraging the bulk purchase campaign model, that members do achieve savings on their solar installation. I think it’s between 10 to 20 percent is what we’ve seen.”

She said Solar United Neighbors also tries to keep members informed on every aspect of going solar.

“We’re here to provide technical assistance and also guide you along the way so that way you feel good about – and informed about – the decisions that you’re making and we hope that you feel confident about this investment,” Barbor said. “Another part to the co-op process is being able to connect with other folks in the community who are also going solar.”

Solar United neighbors started in 2007 when founder Anya Schoolman and her son, Walter, saw the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“They decided it was important for them, their family and their future to go solar, but Anya looked into it and found out that going solar wasn’t really super easy to do, especially back in those days,” Barbor said. “She dispatched Walter and his friend Diego into the neighborhood, and they enlisted the help of about 50 different neighbors to draw on one another’s expertise, untangle the solar jargon, solar technology and financing opportunities because it’s just a lot to think about when you’re going solar.”

Solar United Neighbors has members in all 50 states and over 6,500 families have gone solar through their organization.

“That translates to 53 megawatts of installed capacity, and we’ve offset over 739,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions as well, so these are numbers that we are really proud of,” Barbor said.

More information about the Tucker, Randolph and Upshur co-op, including full information sessions online, pricing and contact information can be found here.

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