UPDATE: SolarizeRVA deadline looms!

Take advantage of the SolarizeRVA program before this Wednesday, and enjoy discounted prices on installing solar power in your own home. As members of this planet, we thank you.

Update #1 — July 12, 2015; 7:47 PM

The SolarizeRVA bulk purchase program ends on July 15th, which is Wednesday. Do you think your house could benefit from solar power? Would you like help determining how best to do so, and the benefit of reduced prices due to the SolarizeRVA streamlining efforts? 

Read our original piece below, in which Susan Hill from the Richmond Regional Energy Alliance explains how it all works. And get in touch with SolarizeRVA very, very soon!

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Original — April 29, 2015

Last year, the Richmond Region Energy Alliance decided it would capitalize on a good idea. Its sister program in Blacksburg had been running a program that would allow residents easy access to solar energy by combining resources, streamlining the process, and reducing the price. SolarizeRVA‘s first year exceeded expectations with 200 interested homeowners, resulting in 20 homes that took the plunge and reduced their energy consumption by up to 80%.

Susan Hill, RREA’s Executive Director, talked with us about how the program works. Because be honest, you’re way interested.

What’s the SolarizeRVA process like?

Hill: We direct people first to our website. There’s a pretty simple contact form to fill out (the hardest questions ask what your roof is made of and how old it is). From there, we send the information to our solar installer, Integrated Power Sources, and they’ll use satellite imagery to help them assess whether the home or business looks like a good candidate for solar. They’ll contact the interested party over the phone, have an initial conversation about what the person’s interests are. Next is a site visit, during which they’ll measure the roof and determine what size system and type of system would be best for that client, make up a proposal, and go from there. And that’s all without any commitment from the home or business throughout the process.

We have financing available throguh Admiral’s Bank (and maybe more to come), but the financial incentive is the federal tax credit (and that’s a credit, not a deduction)1, which that person would take when submitting the federal returns the following year. That ends in 2016.

Why solar?

Hill: It’s really the best, most viable, and cleanest energy source for a business or homeowner to tap into. Ultimately, being a renewable energy source makes it best for an environment. Looking at people’s total energy consumption is important to us, and we encourage energy upgrades as part of our process.

We do offer residential energy assessments, which save you a lot of money. Quite honestly, solar is a lot more fun. There’s a tangible association–I have a system at my own house, and I love running outside to see that the meter has gone backwards that day. Solar is just off the bat a more exciting innovation –it’s helped us capture a greater audience too, by proposing a new way to be better about our energy usage.

What are the program’s goals?

We’re a nonprofit using grassroots outreach methods, so we do our best at hitting the pavement and doing community workshops, reaching out to different neighborhood groups or environmental groups and finding interested people. Last year, the program installed systems at 20 different houses, and we hope to match or exceed that this year.

What’s the holdup with people using such an accessible energy source?

Frankly, it’s the cost. I think people don’t realize how much the costs [of solar power installations] have come down in recent years. We’re seeing an excellent market rate, and with the Solarize program streamlining the process, they’re even lower. It’s also an investment in your future–by investing in solar now, you’re guarding against rising energy costs. With cash flow, it’s easier to think of the money you have right now, but you’ll see a return on your investment well within ten years, conservatively. After you’ve paid it off, you’re just enjoying free energy after that. It really is thinking more in the long-term and being motivated to make this investment, and not only your own individual clean energy.

We also have a way of certifying home energy improvements in partnership with EnergyStar, which checks off a box on the real estate MLS listings. And solar will be a part of that as well.

Can we talk about real numbers? How much should people expect to spend?

The smallest size system is 3000 watts–that’s approximately $10,000, but with a 30% credit, that’s around $7,000. A system that size would be anticipated to produce between 4,000 and 3500 kilowatt hours a year, so if you look at your Dominion bill and see how many kilowatt hours you use, you’ll be able to see how much you can expect that solar system to cover. Heating bills make up the bulk of our energy usage. I have a small home and I expect the smaller system to cover at minimum 80%.

What about historic homes? Do you have any trouble meeting requirements of historic associations or even just installing the systems?

In historic districts, it’s usually required that they’re not visible from the street. But often in those districts, the homes are taller or the roof slopes down in the back, so it’s easier to hide. We had a few clients from the Fan through last year’s program, and it worked out well! Also there are different panel designs, and depending on the color of the roof, sometimes they’re not visible at all.

With energy efficiency, the big principle is stopping air leakage, the attic being the most important plane in your house for energy loss. We identify air leakage points around chimneys, plumbing pipes, wires. A lot of these small gaps really add up to the equivalent of a large window being open in our houses all the time. Before you add any insulation in your attic you really need to seal up the air leaks. We also look at duct work and make sure they’re well-sealed and connected–duct leakage contributes to a lot of energy loss. You also want to make sure your HVAC system is performing well first.

Older homes are just ripe with potential. It’s pretty easy for us to capture at least a 20% energy savings in older homes from fairly straightforward energy upgrades.

What are the bigger implications of more households using solar energy?

More power plants are in the pipeline. Unless we seek out more efficient energy and renewables, we’re going to have to have new power plants. These are issues we wouldn’t have to be dealing with if we all turned inward and made our homes more efficient, first of all, and then looked to solar. Energy efficiency is the cheapest way–it’s so important to look at it as a natural resource and break it down as cost per kilowatt hour. If people feel like some of this energy usage situation is out of their control, this is a way for us to tighten up our homes and businesses, invest in our own energy sources, and look hard at how our own contribution impacts our environment. Just speaking personally, having an energy efficient home and a solar system on my house, it feels really good. I feel like I’m doing my part for the planet.

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Find a SolarizeRVA workshop (about once a week) to learn more. Follow their progress on Facebook or email SolarizeRVA to be put on the mailing list.

  1. Translation: it is a dollar-for-dollar amount back in your pocket, not a reduction from your overall taxable income. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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