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Solar has come to Manatee County. New co-op kicks off this month

Rosalie Shaffer of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, members of the South Florida Museum and Solar United Neighbors of Florida (FL SUN) held a press conference at the South Florida Museum encouraging Manatee homeowners to add solar power to their homes and to sign up for a new solar co-op program.
Rosalie Shaffer of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, members of the South Florida Museum and Solar United Neighbors of Florida (FL SUN) held a press conference at the South Florida Museum encouraging Manatee homeowners to add solar power to their homes and to sign up for a new solar co-op program. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Solar has come to Manatee County.

On Thursday, local groups, including the League of Women Voters of Manatee County and the South Florida Museum, met at the museum to discuss the county’s place in Solar United Neighbors of Florida.

The organization, created by the League of Women Voters Florida, is a network that aims to spread the prevalence of solar panel installations through the creation of co-ops.

Since its kickoff last year, 20 co-ops have popped up in cities across the Sunshine State. Now, Manatee County will be home to the 21st.

Alice Newlon, the League of Women Voters of Manatee County’s conservation chair, said when dozens of people showed up for a discussion on solar last year, a meeting that she expected only a few to attend, she knew it was time for the county to take solar seriously.

“The people of Florida and the people of this county want solar, and we’ve had enormous support from the county on it,” Newlon said. “It’s renewable. It’s clean. And fortunately, as far as technical support and price goes, we can accomplish this with solar co-ops and start to see solar panels pop up all over Manatee County.”

solar co op
Organizers from the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, the South Florida Museum and the Solar United Neighbors of Florida met Thursday, Jan. 11 to discuss the new Manatee County solar co-op. Jessica Schubick South Florida Museum

Jeff Rodgers, Chief Operating Officer of the South Florida Museum, spoke about the potential of solar energy.

“Less than one percent of the sun’s energy that reaches Earth is all that is needed to fuel all photosynthetic life,” Rodgers said. “What if we could also capture some of the sun’s energy and put it to work for us?”

The co-ops are made up of homeowners who are interested in making the switch to solar. Those interested in joining the co-op can sign up for free now through April. Then the group will close to new members.

Co-op members are not obligated to buy solar, organizers say, and can decide on their own.

Once the sign-up period ends in April, Solar United Neighbors of Florida will help members solicit bids from local solar businesses. The group comes together to choose an installer, who then meets with members to figure out their solar needs and whose home qualifies.

While local solar companies primarily support the co-ops, some have expressed concern over what the low price coming out of the collective buying process could do to smaller solar businesses.

Bill Johnson of Sarasota-based Brilliant Harvest told the Bradenton Herald last year that the cost reduction may not be sustainable for both installer and consumer.

“That company that did those installations is not going to be around to provide services and warranty coverage down the road because they didn’t make any money,” he said. “There are basic costs of doing these projects and I think some of the early co-op results ended up doing projects at below cost.”

Still, proponents of the group say that going through a co-op is not only a less expensive route to get solar power, but it’s also an easy and effective one.

Lynn Nilssen, director of Sarasota’s co-op solar group, which ran from January to May last year, spoke about her experience joining the group and hooking up solar in her home.

“The whole process went smoothly,” Nilssen said. “Within a week of the installation of the panels, we were up and running.”

In the first month, Nilssen says her system covered all the energy needed for her home and the only charge on her bill was the connection fee of $9.

“In my home, the switch will reduce our carbon footprint by 206 tons,” Nilseen said. “It just makes sense to go with solar.”

Manatee County residents interested in signing up can visit solarunitedneighbors.org/manatee.

Samantha Putterman: 941-745-7027, @samputterman

Need to know

The group will hold three solar information meetings:

    6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 24, at Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W.

      6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at at YMCA Lakewood Ranch, 5100 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

        6 p.m. on Thursday, March 22, at Braden River Library, 4915 53rd Ave. E.

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