Solarize Decatur-DeKalb returns to install more solar panels
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by Zoe Seiler, contributor
Decatur, GA — Solarize Decatur-DeKalb 2.0 has returned for a second round. The solar project is led by a coalition of environmental organizations to give residents the opportunity to have solar panels installed on their homes.
Over 160 people have signed up for the program, which launched in April. Three Decatur households have had solar panels installed so far, with about 10 more installations scheduled for July.
The solar panels have not been turned on yet due to residents waiting for inspections from the city and Georgia Power.
The program this year also includes new technology such as battery storage systems, like the Tesla Powerwall, and EV charging stations for home and businesses. Participants will save up to 30% off the cost of these systems and installation services through the power of bulk purchasing, according to a Solar Crowdsource press release.
“These campaigns started as a solar energy group purchasing program, but now they’ve morphed into clean energy group purchasing programs that have a whole bunch of technologies that go along with it,” said Don Moreland, Solar CrowdSource Founder.
Solarize Decatur-DeKalb 2.0 is a group purchasing effort that helps participants save on the cost of solar energy. The cost becomes lower as more people sign up.
“Essentially what this is, is the community coming together to purchase solar in bulk, and get discounts from the company that runs the installations because we’re doing it in bulk,” said Michael Black, chair of the Decatur Environmental Sustainability Board.
The Decatur Environmental Sustainability is involved in the project and the citizen-appointed board has said that one of the greatest challenges the community faces is climate change, Black said.
The campaign is run by Solar Crowdsource, an organization that offers Solarize and Crowdfunding campaign tools and services “that are easily accessible and help remove previous barriers to obtaining and investing in solar energy,” the Solar CrowdSource website says.
Summit Solar, a solar energy company, is the contractor that is installing the technology. Nonprofit partners include Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, the Sierra Club and Environment Georgia.
The project is being done at no cost to the city of Decatur since Solar CrowdSource provides all upfront cost for the campaign and charges Summit Solar a platform and administrative cost, Moreland said.
“We designed a model that requires no out of pocket expense to the community because cities usually don’t have extra money to do something like this,” Moreland said. “For installations, homeowners and businesses pay for it themselves or can finance with one of our finance partners.”
Solar CrowdSource and the Environmental Sustainability Board also works with the local nonprofits to promote the campaign and provide educational outreach.
“We’re leveraging the connections that we have with individuals, the fact that people have heard about it the last time around, and also, people who took advantage of it last time to talk about their experiences in being a part of a Solarize project,” Black said.
Mary Stoops and her husband, Trace Haythorn, of Decatur had 16 solar panels installed on their roof a few weeks ago.
“Almost since we have lived in our home, we have hoped to make the move to solar because we have a south facing roof that sits in the full sun all day. We have such a good location to make use of solar energy,” Stoops said.
She mentioned that the urgency around climate change and the affordability of the program impacted the decision to take advantage of the Solarize program this time. The couple were interested in the program a few years ago during the first Solarize Decatur-DeKalb campaign.
“What made it affordable was that with the Solarize Decatur-DeKalb program you can do zero down. Also Georgia Power now is giving us one to one credit for all the energy we produce, which means for every watt we push into the system, we get that equal amount back,” Stoops said.
She added that the cost of the solar panels will basically be the same as her current power bill. They are substituting the payment for the panels for the power bill since their power bill will decrease.
The couple decided to make the move to solar after realizing wind and solar seem to be the most natural alternatives to fossil fuels and can reduce carbon emissions, Haythorn said.
“It feels late to be taking care of the earth but feels important to get busy with it,” he added.
Lorraine Irier of Decatur also had solar panels installed on her home. She is also waiting to have a Tesla Powerwall installed.
Irier added that the federal tax credit for solar energy made the program appealing.
The federal tax credit for solar energy on homes is 26% for systems installed in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Irier was one of the first people to sign up for the program which also means the cost of the panels is more expensive currently while more residents are signing up.
“Since I was one of the first people to sign up I signed up at a higher tiered rate price but by the end of the program they will give me another rebate for the lower pricing. I’ll still be able to take advantage of the lowest tier which they expect to go all the way to the lowest tier. So I would say, out of pocket at the end of the day I’m probably paying two thirds of the price after my tax credit and my other rebates,” Irier said.
Mayor Patti Garrett and her husband, Gary Garrett, were also some of the first people to have solar panels installed. The 13 panels equal about three kilowatts which will be about 60% of the Garrett’s energy use, Gary said.
“It’s a pretty simple process. They come out and do an evaluation of your roof, look at how your roof is situated and where the sun shines. Then they go back and do some analysis of what makes sense and they look at your power bill over the last year or two, then they give you a proposal. If you want to go with it then they give you the financing option and there you go,” he said.
“There’s no fuel costs so it helps you stabilize your electric bills. You’re paying basically for the solar and then whatever you’re paying for your other power that you still need from Georgia Power,” he added.
Stoops, Haythorn, Irier and Gary all recommended that others get involved with the project.
“One, I think it’s the right thing to do environmentally and two, I think it makes good economic sense if you’re going to stay in your house for a while,” Irier said.
She added that Summit Solar and Solar CrowdSource made the process simple by providing the necessary information and handling paperwork for permitting and Georgia Power’s net metering program.
Haythorn said he hopes others get involved because the program may not be repeated again and it felt like a good opportunity in terms of finances and the climate.
“We were a little hesitant about doing this in a time of economic uncertainty, in terms of the pandemic. But at the same time, I actually think what’s going on in our climate is just as concerning. it’s perhaps not as easy to recognize in our daily lives like the current pandemic is but I think there’s an equivalent urgency. It felt important to act on that as well,” Stoops added.
The Solarize Decatur-DeKalb 2.0 campaign has focused on Decatur but is also open to residents of DeKalb County. Those interested can sign up for a free evaluation on the campaign’s website through September 30 to qualify.
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