BUCKHANNON – Solar United Neighbors hopes to launch a solar cooperative throughout different counties in West Virginia.
State director with United Solar United Neighbors Leah Barbor attended the April 7 Upshur County Commission meeting to discuss their plans to launch a solar cooperative in Upshur County.
“We plan to launch a solar cooperative in Tucker, Randolph and Upshur counties at the beginning of May, so I’m just canvassing and trying to inquire different folks about potential partnerships for the co-op and tell you a little bit about Solar United Neighbors,” Barbor said.
She said the organization began in 2007 when their founder and her family decided they wanted to use solar energy, but realized the process was harder to understand than they thought.
“They canvassed door-to-door and got a bunch of neighbors to form a cohort to figure out the process together and go solar together and by banding together, they were able to draw on one another’s expertise and untangle the solar jargon, solar technology, and financing opportunities … because it’s just a lot to think about when you’re going solar,” Barbor said.
This first cooperative took place in Washington D.C., with 45 people and Barbor said Solar United Neighbors has now grown to all 50 states, with 315 solar cooperatives.
“Our model is based on helping people go solar together and fight for their energy rights, so we help folks go solar in different ways; the first way is through our solar co-op process and then the second way is just on a one-off basis,” Barbor said. “Say we have a co-op, and you live outside of the geographic range, then we can help you go solar, if it’s the right time for you. And this is not only homes — it can also be businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, farms, houses of worship — the list just continues to grow.”
Their organization also offers information sessions to talk about required technology and financing.
“We also get people together by having solar tours and happy hours, often to celebrate completed co-ops, and then also we gather people for advocacy around organizing around solar policy,” Barbor said. “We always make sure folks are well-equipped with well-developed resources they need to effectively advocate for their solar rights or their energy rights in general.”
She said their organization has been in West Virginia since 2015, with 159 people and businesses going solar.
“That’s 1.24 megawatts of installed capacity, $3.3 million invested in local solar and it also results in almost $5 a half-million in energy savings over the lifetime of the panels as well,” Barbor said. “[That’s in addition to] offsetting almost 28,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, so these figures really highlight some of my favorite things about solar co-ops, and that’s the ripple effect of the benefits from the individual out to the community and then back into the local economy as well. That’s why I’m really excited to be launching our next co-op in Tucker, Randolph and Upshur counties.”
Learn more about Solar United Neighbors here.