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Pinellas and Hillsborough solar co-ops launch

Madison DeVore

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Photo: Solar United Neighbors.

Solar United Neighbors launched its 2024 Pinellas and Hillsborough co-ops Feb. 29 to help local residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations to go solar.

“Our core mission at SUN is to help people go solar, join together and fight for energy democracy,” said Julia Herbst, Gulf Coast Program Associate for SUN.

SUN has ongoing relationships with co-op contractors, providing opportunities for learning about solar technology and how it can service the public. SUN also participates in advocacy.

“Rooftop solar needs to be protected and expanded and we do a lot with regulations and legislature that make for a solar-friendly Florida,” Herbst said.

When people get energy from utilities, specifically monopoly utilities, advocates have to fight for the right to install solar and get fair credit for it, she explained. Rooftop solar, she believes, should be expanded as fast as possible because it allows local communities to save money, gain independence and reduce environmental pollution.

“If you are interested in going solar and you had to do it on your own – like any big household expenditure – you would shop around,” Herbst said.

Because going solar is a big investment that should last over 25 years, the process can seem daunting, she added. The solar co-op program saves time, stress and money.

As for learning about solar and installation, the co-op members receive education and learn what questions to ask contractors. SUN then puts out requests for proposals and receives bids from solar installers, as well as checks the license and insurance of the installer, Herbst said. “We present them with a big spreadsheet that compares apples to apples and then solar co-op members themselves actually pick an installer for their group.”

The process is low risk and helps people feel comfortable moving forward with solar, Herbst said.

There is increased demand for more solar energy as electricity rates go up and people become interested, Herbst said. Not only can people lower their bills with rooftop solar energy, but they can reduce pollution.

SUN is working to bring the pricing down as well as get funding for low and moderate income residents, Herbst said. Payment options include paying through the installer, a credit union or separate outside lender.

Stability and predictability comes with solar, explained Herbst, because Tampa Bay is getting hotter and hotter, which increases electricity use and bills. “We realize that certain communities have a greater energy burden. They pay a larger part of their income to paying their electric bill, and those are the folks that need it most.”

For nonprofit organizations, there is a 30% tax credit in the form of a direct payment that can aid in going solar, due to the Inflation Reduction Act. 

SUN’s monthly education opportunities: There is an event calendar here.

To find more information and to join a SUN co-op, go to Pinellas or Hillsborough.

 

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