Co-op forms for solar-energy discount

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  • | 9:13 a.m. October 1, 2015
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WEST ORANGE — You might have heard concerns that water, phosphorous and forests are depleting quickly in Florida, but there is one resource that we’ll never have to worry about running out: sunshine. 

To cut energy costs and decrease carbon footprints, families are installing solar panels on their rooftops. There has been a rise in the number of solar-power systems in the South every year in the last decade, including a particularly sharp jump from about 12,700 systems in 2013 to 19,200 in 2014.

Around the country, neighbors have joined forces to create solar co-ops. Like the principle of buying in bulk, co-op members get discounted rates on their solar installation. They also share knowledge and the work of finding the best installer.

The West Orange Solar Co-op, open to anyone in Orange County who lives west of Interstate 4, is forming now with a cut-off date sometime in February or March 2016 and expects its members to have their solar panels installed by spring. The West Orange Co-op will need about 20 or more members to be successful.

“We’re coming to the end of the petroleum era, although that still has a way to go,” said Scott Taylor, a member of the co-op. “(Solar) is an up-and-coming technology. … It’s the future.”

First, the co-op members will have their rooftops individually reviewed for amount of sunlight and potential panel positioning. Then, the members will discuss as a group their priorities in a solar installer: perhaps they will prefer the systems are American-made or that the company is based locally.

Then, the co-op members will gather bids from a number of installers and review those bids together. After choosing an installer, each member will get an individualized proposal that reflects the group discount for installation of a solar system at his or her home.

This is the first point in the process when the co-op members sign an actual contract. Their contracts are signed individually with the installer, not as a group. 

A few weeks later, the solar systems will be installed.

“It’s easier for the installers because there are more people,” said Joan Cleary, Taylor's wife and the organizer of the West Orange co-op. “It’s a committed group of people who have already gone through the process of making sure that their roofs are compatible with solar. So the installer saves money by not having to waste too much time and doesn’t have to advertise.” 

After the solar panels are installed, the homeowner begins to save money on electric costs. In seven years, the savings will balance out the initial cost of installation, and from there, it’s free energy. 

Solar installation costs and savings over time depend on each homeowner’s electricity usage and availability of sunny roof space. But by joining the co-op, homeowners are expected to save $1,200 to $4,000 or more on installation. 

Right now, there is an even greater incentive to go solar: a 30% federal tax credit. The credit will expire in December 2016, at which point homeowners must already have their solar system installed in order to receive the credit.

“I always wanted solar panels. I just think it’s great,” Cleary said. “I believe in that stuff — you (plant) native and you go solar and you try to save the environment. … We don’t have kids, but we have nieces and nephews, and we care about their future.”

The West Orange Solar Co-op is a branch of Central Florida Solar Advocates. To learn more, go to or email Joan Cleary at [email protected]


There will be three more meetings for anyone who would like to learn about joining the West Orange Solar Co-op.

- 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 4851 S. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando (Dr. Phillips), in Room C208

- 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at North Orange Branch Library, 1211 E. Semoran Blvd., Apopka

- 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at Windermere Branch Library, 503 Main St., Windermere

Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].


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