There is a national group making inroads in Florida that is helping people go solar. For those who have considered installing solar panels at home, or just want more information on how it all works, Solar United Neighbors is offering help for free.
What is Solar United Neighbors?
“We are a national nonprofit not affiliated with any product or contractor and we help people get solar, join together and fight for their energy rights,” said Julia Herbst, with Solar United Neighbors. She also serves as coordinator for the Gulf Coast Co-op.
“A lot of what we are doing is helping people go solar through co-ops,” she explained. “We do a lot of education on how solar works and these group projects are ways to get together with your neighbors to learn about the process and get competitive pricing.”
Florida has become one of the top states for solar energy, with only California and Texas installing more megawatts in 2019 and 2020. And the cost of solar panels in Florida is below the national average.
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Right now, the federal government is offering 26% rebates for anyone who adds solar to their home or business. “If your system was $18,000, and it is put in service in 2022, when you file your federal income taxes, you can receive a 26% federal tax credit,” Herbst said. “It’s a great incentive,” which drops to 22% next year. “That is why a lot of people are hopping on board right now.”
She said people attended an informational session just recently and came armed with a lot of great questions about solar. “Some don’t understand it at all and are looking for answers. That is why we are here.”
Just recently, Solar United Neighbors urged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto legislation that would have taken away people’s right to sell excess electricity from their solar systems to the power grid.
“Fortunately, he did veto that legislation and we are very grateful for that and now we want things to move forward so people can save money,” Herbst said.
Why work with co-ops?
Working with co-ops puts people in a better position to get a great deal on solar systems, she said. “We are much broader than a neighborhood block. So, it is not a matter of getting some of your neighbors to come in as a group and try to get a better price.”
The co-op is open to everyone in Hillsborough County, she said, noting that the county is helping to fund the Hillsborough County Co-op. “It’s a really great way to leverage a lot of decision-making and information to residents in the community to help them make decisions themselves.”
How it works: Anyone can sign up for the co-op at no charge and with no obligation to purchase a solar system. There is a specific time period. This one runs through the end of July, so until then, any participants have the opportunity to buy their solar systems with bulk buying power.
“We just have the bids due now” from solar companies working in Hillsborough County, Herbst said. “We reach out to solar installers, and we process their bids and check all the details.”
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The process is very local; she said. “We present a spreadsheet, so the committee can compare apples to apples.” The committee is made up of those interested in getting solar systems. “They are shopping for quotes and then select one installer to service the group. You get a custom proposal for your house, but with a co-op price.”
The co-op can handle up to 150 members and right now, has 65 members, so more are welcome to join. “Some want to be on the selection committee. We can be very vendor-neutral and explain the process to everyone,” Herbst said. “The committee is made up of actual homeowners reviewing the bids. We have been doing this on a national level since 2007 and here in Florida since 2016.”
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