With a response that rivals Allegheny County, the Indiana County Solar Co-Op hopes more members will sign up in the next 10 days.
“It is really because of the local partners who are working with us,” Henry McKay, director of Solar United Neighbors Pennsylvania Program, said Monday. “They have been enthusiastic and effective.”
The local solar cooperative has 65 members, with 15 going the additional step of signing up for contracts for group installation of solar panels.
“Usually 20 to 25 percent of those who sign up (as members) will commit (to contracts for panel installation),” McKay said.
The Indiana County Sustainable Economic Development Task Force said on its website that the local co-op has been the most successful in Pennsylvania. Due to the large demand for membership, the task force said the co-op will accept signed contracts until Aug. 8.
The previous deadline was April 26.
“This extension will allow more people to access the group installation price, saving them thousands,” the task force said on its website. “Becoming a co-op member is not a commitment to signing a solar installation contract, but prospective members should only join if they are seriously considering a solar installation on their property.”
Solar United Neighbors is a nonprofit organization offering what the task force called “unbiased technical guidance” in a Q&A on its website.
The task force said there’s no cost to join the co-op and get a free assessment on solar for one’s home.
“If you decide to go solar, you will receive the same special pricing as all the other members in the county,” the task force Q&A said.
Along with the task force, backers of the local solar co-op include the Borough of Indiana and Evergreen Conservancy.
McKay said the 15 contracts surpassed what’s been taken in so far in Allegheny County, six amid a sign-up of 50 to 55 members, in a second round of sign-ups by the Allegheny County Solar Co-Op.
That’s compared to 63 members in the first round last year in the county that includes Pittsburgh. The second round also has been completed by the Allegheny co-op.
McKay said a smaller number has been reported by a tri-state cooperative that takes in portions of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
According to the Solar United Neighbors website, that Upper Ohio Valley Solar Co-op has completed its work.
Cambria County and Crawford-Mercer co-ops also are now closed to new participants, but openings continue for Beaver-Butler and Mon-Yough co-ops as well as that in Indiana County.
In March the Indiana County Solar Co-Op chose Groundhog Solar LLC through what it called a competitive bidding process over three other firms, citing its competitive pricing, strong track record of installations and system performance guarantee.
“It is an honor to be selected because we know how thoroughly they reviewed each bid,” Richard Flarend, owner of Groundhog Solar, said in a March news release. “We are eager to help more people go solar by providing quality panels at a good price.”
The Pennsylvania Solar United Neighbors organization has a six-member advisory board to “provide strategic direction to the program.” Two members of that board have Indiana County ties.
One is Dr. Jonathan Warnock, an assistant professor in the Department of Geoscience and co-director of Sustainability Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The other is Rick Bloom, a retired high school science teacher with a master’s degree in biology from IUP.
“In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint a decade ago, Rick and his wife decided to give up their original oil furnace and switch to a ground sourced heat pump,” the Solar United website said. “Then, about seven years ago, as they watched the price of solar panels fall and net metering spread, they decided that the next practical step was to install a solar array on their small barn. Both systems have worked extremely well.”
More details about the solar effort in Indiana County can be found through the sustainableindianacounty.org website.