The popularity of solar power continues to heat up and lower energy bills, but getting panels installed requires a significant up-front investment. So, one nonprofit is making sure local business owners can take advantage of the benefits without getting burned.
Solar United Neighbors (SUN) is an advocacy organization that works in Virginia and nationwide to represent the needs and interests of solar owners and supporters. The nonprofit organizes regional co-ops that hold events and education programs to help people become informed solar consumers and maximize the value of their investment.
SUN has been working to establish co-ops in Coastal Virginia for the past five years. The latest, Hampton Roads 2022 Solar and EV Charger Co-op, launched in June 2022. It is free to join and open to homeowners and business owners throughout the region.
Benjamin Hoyne, Virginia program associate for SUN, says he focuses on Coastal Virginia because of the major population and need for self-generated energy after extreme weather events like hurricanes.
Once a co-op reaches about 50 members—small businesses like restaurants and retail with an electricity load of less than 50 kilowatts—a selection committee requests bids from vetted installers and negotiates a bulk discount. While the co-op is available to answer questions and be a resource, it’s ultimately up to the members to choose the installer that’s best for their group.
“People are so busy nowadays, and they don’t really know the industry,” Hoyne says. “And so one key benefit is that you have us as an ally on your side.” Hoyne says that while the reasons companies go solar varies, a driving factor is savings. He points out that now is the time to capitalize on federal tax credits—26% for 2022, 23% for 2023 and 0% in 2024.
“With solar, you have cost certainty for a good chunk of your operating expenses, and it’s a great time to go for it,” he says. “The price of sunshine doesn’t increase, so you’re able to lock in the price of your utility rates which will then help your business invest in other ways, like expansion.”
SUN has hosted 46 solar co-ops in Virginia since 2014. Carl Zangardi, owner of Kiskiack Golf Club in Williamsburg, joined one of the first Coastal Virginia groups in 2018 because he was interested in solar at a competitive price but not the hassle of finding and overseeing contractors, he says.
Zangardi had 88 panels installed on a warehouse where he houses lawn care and other equipment used to maintain the golf course property. He describes the process as very easy—his co-op subcommittee met twice to analyze the bids of three contractors.
Nearly five years later, Zangardi estimates he generates between $5,000-$6,000 per year in electrical usage and would eventually like to install panels on the entire roof.
“I am extremely satisfied,” he says. “The co-op is a very effective, efficient and non-invasive way of learning about how solar can enhance your profitability and ensure expenses over time.”
The deadline to sign up for the Hampton Roads 2022 Solar and EV Charger Co-op is October 31. Multiple in-person information sessions will be held throughout September. For more information, visit SolarUnitedNeighbors.org/HR.