Hampton Roads Solar Co-op could facilitate solar energy in Williamsburg

jojacobs@vagazette.com

If you’re interested in installing a few solar panels onto your roof, Hampton Roads Solar Co-op is ready to provide a helping hand.

The regional co-op, which stretches from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg, is part of Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals and small businesses harness solar energy. Founded in 2007, the nonprofit operates in ten states and the District of Columbia.

“Our job is to help communities address some of the barriers to go solar,” said Aaron Sutch, program director for Solar United Neighbors of Virginia. The nonprofit has done 650 installations in Virginia.

Sutch brought the good word of solar power and how Williamsburg-area residents can harness the renewable energy in a co-op format at the Williamsburg Neighborhood Council meeting Saturday.

The co-op creates cost-savings by bringing together people interested in buying solar panels, which can lead to discounts through bulk-purchasing. The co-op provides guidance to members on the process, financing and installation, Sutch said.

A typical residential solar set-up can cost around $15,000. Larger projects can cost around $20,000. The co-op can help provide discounts of up to 30 percent. Besides being a benefit to the environment, solar panels are low-maintenance and can lower a home’s energy bill, Sutch said.

Ideally, a home would have a large roof area, no shade over the roof and the roof would face south as much as possible. A southerly orientation would put panels more directly toward the the equator, Sutch said.

“That’s going to maximize exposure,” Sutch said.

Homeowners associations can pose a hindrance to homeowners interested in solar panel installation if the association attempts to block the project, Sutch said.

A law passed in 2014 prohibits a homeowners association from barring solar panel installation, though it can restrict size and placement of panels, unless the association’s recorded declaration establishes that prohibition.

Sutch suggested a homeowner interested in solar panels be proactive about communicating with his association about a project. As an argument in favor of solar panels, Sutch said they increase a home’s value according to a 2015 U.S. Department of Energy study.

The co-op has made some local inroads with its partnership with William and Mary.

William and Mary’s sustainability office is a facilitating partner of the co-op. The co-op is assisting in a project to install solar panels on the roof of the Keck Environmental Field Laboratory, said Henry Broaddus, vice president for strategic initiatives and public affairs.

“The action and innovation in this arena is very exciting,” Broaddus said.

For more information

Visit: solarunitedneighbors.org/virginia.

Information session: 6:30-8 p.m., March 20, at Launchpad, The Greater Williamsburg Business Incubator, 4345 New Town Ave.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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