Sharing is caring: How to start a solar co-op
The Center for the New American Dream checks in with the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative, a neighborhood association in Washington, D.C., that has helped 100 homeowners go solar.
Given that everyone loves a good new NIMBY-ism story, it’s not entirely uncommon to read about solar-curious homeowners facing formidable opposition from HOAs and neighborhood organizations that firmly believe rooftop photovoltaic panels, despite their obvious benefits, are just far too aesthetically disruptive for their own good. And god forbid that these radically nonconformist homeowners, in addition to expressing interest in installing solar panels on their roofs, also want to grow vegetable gardens in their front yards, put up clotheslines, or paint their trim in a non-approved shade. Quelle horreur!
What you hear less about are homeowners who set aside any petty differences to come together, as an entire community, to go solar. The advantages of group solar are numerous: flexible leasing options, bulk discounts, support, and, of course, the knowledge that you and Joe Blow from down the street are working together towards a common goal: saving money on monthly electric bills while helping to combat global warming.
The Center for a New American Dream recently released a fantastic short video (embedded below) profiling one such neighborhood. Back in 2006, a small group of residents living in Washington, D.C.,’s rowhouse-heavy Mount Pleasant neighborhood banded together to form the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative. The whole-neighborhood-goes-solar idea actually originated with Walter Lynn and Diego Arene-Morley, two preteen friends, who, after attending a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” decided that something positive needed to be done in their backyards.
The two riled-up 12-year-olds went to their parents with their concerns (in the case of Lynn, it doesn’t hurt if your mom is Anya Schoolman, a renewable energy activist who has a masters in international relations and environmental policy from Columbia and has held positions with both the Department of the Interior and the EPA). Not too long after, the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative, a 350-family strong association that has helped roughly 100 neighborhood residents install solar panels on their homes to date (about 10 percent of the neighborhood), was born. Says Schoolman of that initial meeting with the co-ops' two young co-founders: “We said to the boys: Look, if we’re going to go to all the work to figure out how to go solar, we’re going to do the whole neighborhood because it’s not worth doing all this work just for one roof."
Of course, establishing a neighborhood solar co-op wasn’t exactly a quick and easy process — it took about three years and plenty of red tape from the time the boys approached their parents to the time that the first group of about 45 Mount Pleasantons — or "solaristas" in the words of member Robert Robertson — installed arrays on their roofs. Currently, the scope of the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative has extended out of the neighborhood in an effort to help other D.C. residents establish similar programs. Together with 11 sister co-ops in neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon, Georgetown, and Capitol Hill, the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative is part of an overreaching, 350-member organization called DC Solar United Neighborhoods.
Click here to learn more about the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative. It’s also worth checking out the Community Power Network, a nationwide network founded by Schoolman that serves as a support system for neighborhoods across the country interested in going the group solar route. Would you be more likely to go solar if the entire neighborhood was involved?
Video screenshot: Center for a New American Dream/YouTube
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