How a solar co-op can make a solar dream possible
Many people along the North Shore and beyond like the idea of powering their home or business using renewable solar energy but don’t quite know where to start. Lucky for the folks in the Duluth and Arrowhead region, Solar United Neighbors (SUN) and Cook County Local Energy Program (CCLEP) have partnered to make this process a whole lot simpler by forming the Duluth and Arrowhead solar co-op.
Matt Petz Giguere and his wife, Erin, started attending the solar co-op’s webinars last year after hearing about the program from CCLEP coordinator, Jesse Carlson. They initially decided to join to learn more about the process and costs involved since members can join for free without committing to any purchases or installation. The Petz Giguere’s had discussed solar installation prior to purchasing their home in the Grand Marais city limits last year, but saw it as a long-term goal given the significant financial commitment required. After joining the co-op, they realized they might be able to make this happen sooner than they thought.
The Petz Giguere’s hope to lower both their energy bill and their carbon footprint quickly became a reality. By joining the solar co-op and taking advantage of the group purchasing power, they got a great price on solar from a vetted solar installer. Solar United Neighbor’s staff have solar installers provide bids for the group’s business. A selection committee of solar co-op members review the bids with guidance from SUN staff and choose the solar installer that is the best fit for the solar co-op. The committee, which Matt served on, chose to work with Wolf Track Energy of Duluth. One of the biggest draws of their proposed contract for Matt was their installation, parts, and service warranty. While Matt is confident in the support from SUN and CCLEP, he says the warranty gives him added peace of mind.
Matt and Erin attended their first solar co-op meeting in January 2021 and in August they had their solar array installed and ready for inspections. The actual installation was complete in one day, simplified by the fact that their roof was fairly new and solar-ready. Before they could install though, they had to decide on the best location for their panels. They grew concerned when realizing much of their roof was not south-facing. Wolf Track Energy worked closely with the Petz Gigueres to assess the roof of both their home and their detached garage to design an array that would work efficiently. After doing some modeling, and thanks to improvements in solar technologies, they were able to install 16 panels. The models showed that even with some east and west facing panels, they would come close to generating the amount of power the family uses annually.
It will take time to gather enough data to truly calculate the return on their investment, but at this point Matt is happy they took the leap. It is hard to deny the benefits of their solar setup even at an early stage. In the first couple of months of generating solar power, their energy bill was cut roughly in half, even in October which is a suboptimal month for generating solar power. The lowered bill was a result of using the solar power as well as the credit they received from the utility company for the net electricity generated. For most folks, the solar array will be connected to the electric grid and the solar power that is produced but not used is diverted to the electric grid and the home or business owner is reimbursed.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, says Bobby King, an organizer with SUN. “When the sun is out and you are producing energy, the electricity you don’t use literally goes to your neighbors,” King said. Net metering encourages homeowners to go solar and helps them recoup their investment in solar. Best of all, as electric rates rise, so does the payment from the utility company.
The Petz Giguere’s plan to keep an eye on the numbers and are excited to see what the meter reads in the spring and summer when the days are longer and brighter. Looking ahead, they have plans to work with the solar co-op and CCLEP to further their investment. Projects like installing a battery for solar storage and an electric car charging station would increase the impact of their installation. Their first step will be to work with CCLEP to conduct an energy audit of their property, a service available to all Cook County residents and businesses.
Working with SUN and CCLEP not only allows you to take advantage of shared expertise and cost savings, but will also let you learn about tax credits, low interest loans, and federal grants that may be available. One such incentive for this year’s co-op members who took the leap is a federal solar investment tax credit allowing for 26 percent of the project cost to be taken as a tax credit in 2022.
Switching to solar with the advice and purchasing power of a solar co-op means joining a community of like-minded neighbors who are committed to a renewable future. If you are wondering how you can take advantage of these programs, your best bet is to become a member during this round of recruitment. You may just find, as the Petz Giguere’s did, that your solar dreams are more achievable than you think—with the right help at least.
You can go solar too!
The Duluth and Arrowhead Solar Co-op is free to join and there is no obligation to go solar. Join online at: solarunitedneighbors.org/duluth.
You can register for the solar co-op’s webinar on January 6 at 6:30 p.m. by clicking on the “Events” tab. After you join Solar United Neighbors will do a satellite roof review of your home. Once a solar installer is selected, they will prepare a proposal for your home at the co-op price.
CCLEP is one of the local partners with Solar United Neighbors and promotes renewable energy in Cook County. Learn more here: cookcountylocalenergy.org.
Story sponsored by Solar United Neighbors