Two Citrus schools get solar power

John Colasanti, Citrus County School District maintenance coordinator, describes a set of solar panels installed at Citrus High School in 2013. Colasanti said the panels provide power to the school’s cafeteria, which also serves as an emergency shelter, in the event of a power outage.

Kate Betsko, president of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Citrus County, would like to see solar panels on every roof in Citrus County.

Well, maybe that’s pushing it, but at least more than what is already out there.

Betsko visited with the Chronicle’s editorial board Wednesday to pitch the benefits of a cooperative of homeowners that will bring the costs of solar panel installation down. The LWV has partnered with Community Power Network to launch a new program called Solar United Neighbors (SUN) of Florida. The nonprofit program helps communities educate the public about solar energy and shows how people can affordably participate in installing rooftop solar panels.

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While most people support the concept, the high installation costs have scared some people away. But with the cooperative and bulk purchasing, some folks are realizing an average discount of 10-20 percent compared to the cost of an individual installation, Betsko said.

The average price for a residential solar installation is just below $3 per watt. That means if you purchase a medium-sized residential system of 5 kilowatt-

hours (kWh), it would cost about $15,000, according to SUN. That does not include a 30 percent federal tax credit or any additional incentives. The average annual energy expenditure per person is $3,052, according to Solar Resource Guide. After the initial investment, most owners of solar systems will see a savings of at least $1,000 per year, the guide said.

Here’s how the cooperative works: SUN handles the competitive bidding process from local installers and a selection committee chooses the one that is best for the group. Members then get an individualized proposal for their home that reflects the group discount. It’s at that time that group members can decide if they would like to go solar. They are not committed to buying.

“Becoming a member of the co-op doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t obligate anyone to sign a contract,” Betsko said. “If they’re interested, when all this process is through, the installer that’s chosen by the selection committee will come out and check the roof and make sure its got enough sunshine and not covered with trees. Then they will look at your electric bills and offer a contract to you.

“At that time, if you sign a contract, then you’re obligated to the installer and then SUN will follow this through all the way to the very end,” Betsko said. “They will help if there’s an issue. All a co-op member would have to do is call SUN and they would try and get it resolved. They don’t just leave you hanging.”

Betsko believes if more people were educated about the benefits of solar, they would make the switch. She said she has already approached county commissioners and they indicated their support of the co-op. They will discuss passing a resolution to that effect at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Given its moniker as the Sunshine State, Florida already leads the nation in the growth of residential solar permits, according to the LWV. The campaign began in mostly urban areas, including Orange County and St. Petersburg but LWV members are seeking to expand it in other areas, including Citrus County.

Betsko urges residents to attend a press conference about the co-op at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 21 at Central Ridge library in Beverly Hills. They can ask questions there and at three follow-up information public meetings still to be announced.

Why should people go solar?

“The cost has gone down considerably,” Betsko said. “It (helps) our environment, it’s going to save (homeowners) money on their electric bills.”