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New co-op launches to help homeowners

Power of the sun — There are 187 solar panels atop the building housing The Beacon’s offices. The 50-kilowatt array, installed in 2016 by Conrad Realty Co., provides about 100 percent of the power used by the newspaper and other businesses on the Conrad property. A planned co-op would make it easier for homeowners to install solar panels of their own.

Power of the sun — There are 187 solar panels atop the building housing The Beacon’s offices. The 50-kilowatt array, installed in 2016 by Conrad Realty Co., provides about 100 percent of the power used by the newspaper and other businesses on the Conrad property. A planned co-op would make it easier for homeowners to install solar panels of their own.

BEACON PHOTO/ANTHONY DeFEO

A new group aims to make it easier for homeowners to save money on their electric bills and reduce their carbon footprints.

Members of Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN) joined the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and several West Volusia government officials in Downtown DeLand Aug. 30 at the official launch of the Volusia County Solar Co-op.

The new co-op, the 16th in the state, will allow interested homeowners to join together and pool their buying power to get reduced prices on solar panels and installation.

“Solar has started to take off in the Sunshine State thanks to falling prices and favorable amendments being passed,” said Nancy Vaughn, a co-chair of the LWV’s solar-and-water action team. “Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in solar permits, with a growth rate in the last year of 110 percent.”

FL SUN and LWV, through their efforts, have helped more than 500 homeowners install solar panels. The discounts from a co-op can be substantial, Vaughn said.

“By joining a co-op, people have saved over 20 percent on the cost of going solar,” she said. “And the 30-percent tax credit is still in effect.”

Already, the cost of solar panels has come down dramatically over the past several years — from more than $7 per watt in 2009 to less than $2 in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But, the cost of an entire system of solar panels and inverters to power a home can still be more than $10,000, depending on the size of the system.

Each co-op uses a competitive bidding process to select a single company that will install systems on the participating homes.

Among government officials at the launch ceremony was DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar, who noted his city’s support.

“We understand and believe that we have an obligation to our children and our grandchildren to preserve our planet,” he said. “So, we try to be good stewards of our natural resources.”

Apgar noted DeLand is already host to one of Volusia County’s largest solar installations — a 50-kilowatt system with 187 panels installed in 2016 by Conrad Realty Co. atop the Downtown DeLand building that houses The Beacon’s headquarters.

“We have one shining example of success … The Beacon, in Downtown DeLand. That whole complex now is on solar energy, and they have enjoyed great savings in their cost of electricity,” Apgar said.

For those interested in the new co-op, an information session will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the Rinker Auditorium at Stetson University's Lynn Business Center, 345 N. Woodland Blvd.

Another session will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, in the Deltona Regional Library auditorium, 2150 Eustace Ave.

Visit www.flsun.org/volusia for more information on the co-op and for details about other informational sessions.

- Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com


Better off in a storm?

While solar panels could continue to produce electricity, even after the power goes out in a storm, most photovoltaic systems don’t work that way.

Most systems, including the 50-kilowatt array on top of The Beacon building in Downtown DeLand, are connected to the utility company’s power grid. When the grid goes down, the solar panels quit working.

“That’s done for the safety of the utility-line workers who are making the repairs. We can’t have solar arrays backfeeding the grid when electric-utility repair personnel are making repairs,” explained Patrick Altier, owner of Solar Trek in Ocala and president of the Florida Solar Energy Industry Association.

Solar systems can be used for emergency power, but it would require the addition of batteries, like the Tesla Powerwall. A solar-electric system with batteries works like a generator. When the power goes out, this type of system disconnects from the grid, so the homeowner can still get power from the solar system.

Right now, however, it’s usually more affordable and practical to use a generator for emergency power, Altier said, adding, “That won’t be the case for long.”

He said solar-industry experts expect the price of batteries, which is already dropping, to be cut in half over the next couple of years. Solar emergency power has an advantage over generators, Altier said, because it isn’t dependent on fuel.

Altier’s Solar Trek and Holly Hill-based Solar-Fit partnered to install the solar system atop The Beacon.

— Barb Shepherd

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