95 houses outfitted with solar by city initiative

Over one megawatt of solar capacity was generated within a few months of Phase 1 of the Solarize Bloomington Initiative, the City of Bloomington announced Tuesday.

95 residences and two government buildings were outfitted with solar installations this year. The initiative will continue this year with Phase 2 to allow residents, businesses and non profits in Bloomington and surrounding counties to install solar at a discount, according to a City of Bloomington press release.

“We were so pleased with the response to the first round of Solarize,” City Sustainability Coordinator Jacqui Bauer said in the release. “With the expansion to surrounding counties, we’re hoping to demonstrate how much southern Indiana loves solar.”

Bloomington and Monroe County have more solar installations than any other area of Indiana. For Phase 2, they’ll be collaborating with Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network to again accept applications from the surrounding counties of Green, Lawrence, Morgan and Owen, Jacqui Bauer, the sustainability coordinator for the Economic and Sustainable Development Department, said.

SIREN is a volunteer-powered organization that started in 2008 as a way for people to educate themselves on DIY approaches to solar power. Before they collaborated with the City of Bloomington for its first phase of Solarize Bloomington, they had previously worked on the Bloomington Neighborhood Solar Initiative, Anne Hedin, a member of SIREN’s Steering Committee, said.

The initiative, which focused on the Bryan Park and Elm Heights neighborhoods, installed solar panels in 29 homes in an area less than one square mile in size, Hedin said.

Although Hedin initially saw people in their 60s express the most interest in solar as they prepared for retirement, she’s seeing a greater amount of interest from younger people.

“We’ve noticed over the last year there’s a greater number of younger people buying in,” she said. “There’s a huge interest among millennials.”

While younger people can find it difficult to install solar power, restricted by lower salaries and their tendency to rent properties, Hedin is encouraged by the commitment that young people show to solar energy.

“As people come into their earning capacity, we expect to see solar really, really take off,” she said.

It helps that the cost of installing and using solar has dropped by more than half since 2012, Hedin said.

Solarize Bloomington will collaborate with the SIREN and solar installers to provide solar to participants for approximately $7,000. This is after applying a 30 percent federal tax credit for a four-kilowatt system.

Solarize Bloomington and SIREN also put on a program called Solar For All. People who purchase solar panels for their homes can choose to forego a percentage of their savings to contribute to a general fund for outfitting lower-income families’ houses with solar.

Residents who complete installations by December 31 will be credited for energy produced at retail rather than wholesale rates until 2047. During the day, houses with solar produce so many kilowatts from their solar panels, feeding back in the grid. At night, they draw energy from the grid compensate for the lack of sun. Doing so creates a one-to-one swap, Hedin said.

However, those who complete installations after that will only have this arrangement until 2032. SEA 309, a bill recently passed in the Indiana General Assembly’s 2017 session, capped the benefits solar home owners enjoy.

Residents interested in installing solar power in their homes are encouraged to attend one of the upcoming four information sessions so they can make an informed decision about solar, Hedin said. At its July 17 meeting, the winning contractor for Solarize Bloomington’s Phase 2 will be announced.

“This is the best time for people to go solar in Indiana,” Bauer said. “It’s never going to be as attractive as it is right now.”

You can pre-register and RSVP for Solarize information sessions at www.tinyurl.com/solarizebloomington2 For more information, see sirensolar.org.

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