Solar United Neighbors promotes solar energy with local co-op

Solar United Neighbors (SUN), in partnership with the City of Flagstaff, Sedona and Coconino County, announced the launch of the Northern Arizona Solar Co-op to help local residents and businesses in utilizing solar power. 

 “The co-op will enable northern Arizona homeowners and business owners to join the growing community of people saving money by harnessing solar power,” SUN’s Arizona program director Bret Fanshaw said. “Together we’re building a movement to create a more sustainable electricity system that directly benefits … the community.” 

According to a press release distributed by SUN community consultant Denise Robbins, the co-op’s members are not required to invest in solar power. While participants have the option to purchase panels and electric vehicle chargers at discounted group rates, they can also benefit from a greater education and involvement with this alternative energy source. 

 “This is the best part about joining the solar co-op,” Fanshaw said via email. “We educate members about the entire process of going solar and take some of the legwork out of reviewing installation companies.” 

Additionally, Fanshaw explained that northern Arizona residents, along with others around the country and world, should educate themselves regarding solar energy, the technology, installation process and overall economic benefits. For those looking to purchase, SUN recommends getting proposals from at least three installers before deciding on a final choice. 

Coconino County sustainability manager Amanda Acheson said the co-op program supports a longstanding commitment to being good stewards of the environment, in addition to providing another resource for the area’s residents. Meanwhile, Mayor Paul Deasy paralleled these remarks in SUN’s press release.

“The City of Flagstaff is excited to partner with and welcome Solar United Neighbors to our region,” Deasy said. “We are confident that the Northern Arizona Solar Co-op will help make the process of owning a rooftop solar system more accessible and affordable for interested homeowners and businesses in our community.” 

Based on a chart shared by Robbins, the average cost of solar per watt has fallen 23% since 2014. At the same time, five kilowatt systems averaged $17,500 nationally — but $14,950 through SUN’s co-ops. In 2020, the same setup approximated at $14,200 nationally and $12,050 through SUN, which demonstrates a decrease of 19%. These figures denote the increasing affordability of solar energy, along with the effectiveness of SUN’s co-ops. 

“Bringing many homeowners together gives installers a strong customer pipeline and creates economies of scale,” Fanshaw said via email. “This allows solar companies to bulk order materials and reduce their marketing expenses to find these customers. Pricing for co-op participants will vary from group to group, depending on the group size, location and bids.” 

Junior Andrew Foss, who is pursuing a double major in environmental science and chemistry, said residential solar is often unable to benefit from economies of scale. Through SUN’s co-op, however, the pricing becomes more similar to mass orders from utility companies and other large corporations — a benefit for individual consumers.

Meanwhile, Foss said solar panels are cheap enough to beat traditional energy sources, but convincing people of this cost-competitive and energy-efficient nature poses bigger problems. Grid storage and demand reduction systems are also needed to address solar’s intermittency, he added, although Flagstaff is an ideal location for harnessing this power.

“Flagstaff has a lot of advantages when it comes to solar,” Foss said via email. “The temperatures here are mild enough to not hurt the panels’ longevity significantly, as extreme heat can really cut operational lifetimes down. Our relatively sunny years are obviously a boon as well, as the capacity factor — basically the percentage of time the energy source can actually produce energy and isn’t down for maintenance or whatever else — of solar here is higher than Seattle, for instance.” 

Additionally, Flagstaff’s elevation provides another benefit over the majority of urban areas, which are usually situated at lower locations. Cities like Phoenix store and harness slightly less solar energy being 6,000 feet closer to sea level, which displays Flagstaff’s efficiency and cost effectiveness. 

“The City of Flagstaff is a pretty great place for solar all around, though rooftop installations can be difficult due to improper roof angles relative to the sun and obstacles blocking light, but it is a viable and financially-sound decision for many people here,” Foss concluded via email. 

Another factor to consider is that despite SUN’s solar co-ops, prices in the United States are still relatively high compared to other countries around the world. Foss mentioned Australia for instance, and an article in ​Greentech Media asserted that the country’s solar systems are nearly one-third the price of installations in the United States.

According to the article, Australia benefited from a sharp decline in installation costs and a sudden rise in electric bills. Originally, the country also used feed-in tariffs to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies, along with federally-instituted rebates for finished solar systems. The permitting and regulation process is also less intensive in Australia than the U.S., which could provide further incentive for switching to this source. 

Greentech Media also showed that overall, Australia’s renewable energy development is 10 times faster than the global average, including four times higher than other fast-developing renewable markets such as China, Japan, Europe and the U.S. 

Despite these unfavorable comparisons between U.S. citizens and Australians, SUN’s press release stated since 2019, six solar co-ops utilized by 102 Arizonan homes and businesses contributed $1.8 million in local solar spending and 26 million pounds of lifetime carbon offsets. 

SUN is also hosting free informational webinars to educate community members about solar energy generally and the co-ops specifically. The next event is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 6:00 p.m. and interested parties can RSVP ​online.