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"Solarize" Catching On

Neighbors in communities across the country are collectively bringing down the cost of solar while simplifying the purchase process. A US Department of Energy guide shows how.

Neighbors with an entrepreneurial spirit started "Solarize Southeast" (Southeast Portland) in 2008 as a way to make solar more affordable, while providing transparency and building consumer confidence.

Within six months, Solarize Southeast signed up more than 300 residents, installed solar on 130 homes, added 350 kilowatts of new PV capacity and created 18 permanent professional-wage jobs for site assessors, engineers, project managers, journeyman electricians and roofers.

The project was quickly adopted by other neighborhoods. The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability was able to get support from the U.S. Department of Energyto scale up the project.

The U. S. Department of Energy published"The Solarize Guidebook: A community guide to collective purchasing of residential PV systems" taking the guesswork out of organizing locally.

According to the case studies reported in the guidebook the Solarize Portland campaigns of 2009 through 2011 "revolutionized the market for solar, driving down market prices by more than 30% across the board and generating over 50 permanent green jobs for site assessors, engineers, project managers, journeyman electricians and roofers."

The "Solarize" process is designed to simplify the purchase process for the consumer. It includes competitive contractor selection, community-led outreach with a trusted partner and a limited-time offering.

One of the outcomes in Portland was that even contractors that were not selected to participate benefited from an increase in demand for solar. Most customers preferred locally made solar products even though they were a little more expensive than what is available from out of state. Offering the program for a limited time helped drive consumption. Limiting the duration of the campaign also ensured that the "market would not be tapped out, but rather, primed for further activity."

Similar programs have been started in California, Massachusetts, Vermont and Washington. 

In Washington Northwest Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) works with membership-based community groups to organize Solarize campaigns neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Northwest SEED has completed two programs and started two more in 2012.

"As demand for Solarize campaigns has grown, Northwest SEED has begun to issue a Call for Partners to competitively select neighborhoods as hosts for upcoming Solarize campaigns. In addition, several local utilities have seen the success of Solarize Washington campaigns and are now offering support to expand the program.

One advantage Washington has over Portland is the Washington State Renewable Energy Production Incentive. Solar systems manufactured in state achieve a much quicker payback than solar systems manufacture out of state, despite their higher upfront cost.

A benefit of the Solarize Guidebook is its inclusion of lessons learned from each of the projects and a step-by-step process on how to create your own neighborhood solar campaign.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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