By Michelle Cassell
ORANGE COUNTY — A solar crowdsourcing group is trying to inject more green energy into the Triangle.
Solarize The Triangle ‘23 represents the second summer of a two-year campaign offering consumers and businesses volume discounts on solar energy, battery storage and other clean energy expenses.
A long list of local governments and municipalities in the area are participating in the program, including Orange County and Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.
“It’s shaping up to be a great program,” said Don Moreland, spokesperson for campaign organizer Solar CrowdSource. “We did way more than we expected last year. The response from the community was tremendous.
In 2022, Orange County executed 63 solar contracts, close behind Wake’s 68. Since this year’s campaign launched in May, Chapel Hill has 24 contracts and Carrboro has landed eight. Sign-ups include free evaluations and estimates. Moreland said there are about 80 pending contracts as of yesterday.
“Although many people already went solar that wanted to last year, we are still doing great this year,” Moreland said.
The Duke interconnection application deadline has been extended from July 1 to October 1, 2023. The enrollment deadline is September 30. The residential contract deadline is December 31 and the commercial/nonprofit contract deadline is March 31, 2024.
“This is a two-year limited time-based campaign,” Moreland explained, “We educate people about the benefits of solar power and the program. And then, with the group purchase aspect of it, we can’t just keep it going forever. So this is the last year of a two-year program.”
The program has been most attractive to individual homeowners, with most being residential contracts.
“So far, we only have a small handful of business contracts,” Moreland said. “We hope to see it pick up.”
Since Jan. 1, 2022, homeowners who pay federal taxes and have a solar system placed into service by the end of the year are eligible for a tax credit worth 30% of the cost of their systems. Solar Crowdsource recommends referring questions about the credits to a tax professional.
The company goes after competitive bids to get lower prices on installations. For the second year, the company is using Cary solar contractor Yes Solar Solutions for installation. Moreland said the company believes the deals it secured are the best it could find.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, collective buying programs for solar energy and batteries are gaining popularity as an effective way to increase access to renewable energy sources and reduce carbon emissions and energy costs for communities. These programs bring together a group of homeowners or businesses in a specific area to purchase solar panels and batteries in bulk at lower prices.
The programs are not new. The DOE says they have been used in various industries for decades, and have gained momentum in recent years in the solar industry as technologies have improved and prices have dropped. The programs allow individuals to pool their resources, lowering the overall cost of solar panels or batteries.
Last year’s campaign signed 181 contracts, resulting in 1,731 kilowatts of new solar capacity and an estimated $300,500 in annual utility bill savings, $5.98 million in clean energy development and 3.25 million pounds of CO2 emission reductions annually, according to data compiled for the campaign.
The municipalities involved claim the campaign aligns with their climate goals. Carrboro, for example, pledges to promote renewable energy in the town as part of its community climate action plan and has been recognized for its solar efforts since 2017, when it received a gold designation from SolSmart. This agency provides free solarization assistance to local governments. Chapel Hill has similar goals to make solar more accessible, including through competitive bidding, with the goal to reduce energy cost burdens on low-to-medium-income families.
“Building on the success of last year’s program, we’re very excited that Chapel Hill is part of Solarize the Triangle ’23. The main benefit of this group purchasing model is that the price for solar and batteries go down as homeowner participation goes up,” John Richardson, the Community Sustainability and Resilience Manager for Chapel Hill, said.
According to Solarize the Triangle information, collective buying programs for solar energy and batteries also provide an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of renewable energy sources and promote sustainable behavior.