Marco Islanders have an opportunity to learn about the advantages of using solar power when Solar United Neighbors presents an informational program on Wednesday, March 6 from 6 to 8 PM at St. Mark’s Church, 1101 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island. This is the third area meeting about solar and the opportunity to be part of a solar coop.
Jody Finver, the group’s South Florida program coordinator, announced at the first meeting that 32 homeowners had signed their intent to form a coop in Naples and will begin the initial phase of soliciting proposals from installers.
Finver’s detailed and factual presentation on solar covered three topics: solar technology, how solar coops work and solar economics. She speaks from experience. Finver has used solar power for thirty years, first in Colorado and now in Miami. She said her rooftop solar has produced enough energy to offset 100 percent of her Florida Power and Light usage. After making the house energy efficient, her electric bill went from $110 to $9.40 monthly.
Benefits of being a solar coop member, in addition to lowering one’s energy bill are, having energy independence, reducing pollution and protecting the environment.
Finver explained that solar works by converting sunlight into direct current: (DC) electricity which an inverter converts from DC to AC. Your home consumes the electricity produced from your solar equipment and connects to the local grid, allowing you to receive electricity even when your solar panels aren’t producing any. The solar array consists of multiple panels wired together that can be placed on the roof or ground. She said that inverters are available in two types, a central inverter if there is no shade that can be mounted on the side of the house or if panels are shaded, micro inverters installed with the panels can optimize parts of panels not shaded. She added, by installing an app on your cell phone, each panel and its output can be checked.
Panels work best on a southerly site with 200 continuous feet receiving sunshine but Finver said east and west facing roofs can also work. In a solar coop one’s house takes what it needs and the surplus goes to neighbors. Panels last 20 to 25 years and because they are an upgrade to your home Finver suggested talking with your insurance agent about a possible increase in coverage. She added that the resale value of the home will go up and mentioned a recent example that was $15,000 higher with the addition of solar power.
When the grid goes down, solar shuts off so batteries are needed if you want power during outages according to Finver. She said a 6kwh battery bank can be fully charged by solar daily and gave the example of a family who use its power to run their refrigerator, some lights and outlets, and the cable modem.
When questioned about the safety of roof top panels during hurricanes, Finver gave examples from Florida, Marathon, and the Virgin Islands when panels remained on roofs. She explained that roof panels are securely attached to the trusses and also that they are waterproofed. Regular maintenance is not needed although an installer may offer it on a once- a- year basis, she added.
There is no charge to sign up for a solar coop. Once thirty people have signed, they solicit proposals from at least three installers looking at cost, equipment, warranties, and the installer’s work history according to Finver. After proposals are compared, an installer is selected who best meets the needs of the community. Once a contract is signed, the installer’s work can begin which includes connecting your system to the electrical grid. The average time it takes to go solar is two to four months.
Solar United Neighbors runs a solar help desk where members can get answers to questions about their systems. The organization is a nonprofit, not a solar company that’s installer –neutral and according to their Solar 101 Guide (available online), they are dedicated to consumer protection. Consumers can choose to be part of a coop or to go solar individually. Their members -only help desk can provide support on a step by step basis.
Average solar pricing according to Finver is $10,000 for four kilowatts and $20,000 for eight kilowatts. She said the time is right to go solar now. It’s accessible and the costs have come down 90 percent since the 1970s. Also, 2019 is the last year when a 30 percent federal tax credit is available, which next year will be 26 percent, the following year, twenty two percent, and then eliminated.
When asked about how gated or non-gated communities can sign up for solar, Finver said that if the community association owns the roof or where the panels would be placed and agrees to opt for solar installation that the local electrical company must agree to this. There is a community solar guide available on line from the Solar United Neighbors site.
About seventy people attended the meeting held recently at the Naples Botanical Garden. Patti Forkan, Environmental chair of the League of Women Voters, a sponsor of Solar United Neighbors introduced Chad Washburn, vice president of Conservation for the garden, who said the garden was a natural fit for the meeting since there are 164 solar panels in the garden and that all exhibits are powered by the sun.
St. Mark’s Church, host site for the Marco Island meeting, is also a sponsor of Solar United Neighbors.