Neighbors Pool Money to Harness the Sun's Power

Group buys are growing in Colorado’s solar market

Group purchasing is growing in Colorado’s solar market, with collective buying pushing more installs for businesses and homes. Nonprofit Solar United Neighbors (SUN) kicked off in early March in Fort Collins, where 100 interested consumers packed a room for a public information session. After the second launch in Steamboat Springs in mid-March, SUN plans to move into more cities across the state.

SUN aggregates interested solar customers into consumer co-op groups. When a co-op hits about 25 members with buildings or homes confirmed as a good fit for solar power, the co-op sends out requests for proposals to solar installers. A co-op selection committee chooses the best installer for local needs.

Bryce Carter, SUN program director for Colorado, calculates co-op installations in the state will pay back on initial investment in nine to 12 years, including the federal tax credit of 30 percent available through the end of 2019. Solar vendors who bid on the aggregated installs save on marketing costs and can order supplies in bulk, while co-op members benefit from education and support from the vendor-neutral SUN.

Renewable energy can be a “really good marketing point” for small businesses, says Ben Delman, SUN national communications director. “Small business owners are interested because they are able to take control over where their electricity comes from and are able to lock in their energy price for 20 to 25 years,” he says.

In another indication of growth in solar group buys, nonprofit Solar Energy International in Paonia launched Solar Forward in January 2018. Solar Forward provides community groups with a dedicated adviser, tools and expertise to drive localized solar initiatives and has assisted so far in Gunnison, Montrose and Summit counties.

Since 2013, SUN created 180 co-ops in 10 states with the help of local partners such as the League of Women Voters of Florida. The nonprofit boasts 3,600 installations representing 27 megawatts of power at a value of $72 million, serving as a boost to solar industry jobs and local economies.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado is home to 6,788 solar-related jobs, 467 solar-related companies and 216,000 solar-powered homes.

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