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.

BEVERLY HILLS — Chuck and Dahlonega Peck drove all the way from their Gainesville home Wednesday morning to tell about 30 folks gathered at Central Ridge Library about the benefits of joining a solar energy co-op.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Citrus County is starting a local co-op and wanted someone present who has first-hand experience.

“It really was painless,” Chuck Peck told the crowd.

The Pecks were wary of dealing on their own with solar energy companies and sought help from a Gainesville co-op. The couple has had the panels installed on their home and are awaiting inspection and hook-up.

Kate Betsko, president of the LWV of Citrus County, introduced several solar energy advocates at Wednesday’s event, including Teddi Rusnak, secretary of the Citrus County Council.

Rusnak said she is “thrilled and delighted” that the LWV is launching this co-op because it supports the council’s views on sustainable power.

Cynthia Oswald, county public information officer, said solar panels are a natural for Citrus County, which experiences on average 243 sunny days a year.

Betsko said by having a cooperative of homeowners, the cost of solar panel installation can be brought down. The LWV has partnered with Community Power Network to launch the 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.

Solar energy is enjoying interest nationwide but high installation costs have scared some people away. With cooperative and bulk purchasing, some folks can realize an average discount of 10-20 percent compared to the cost of an individual installation, according to Betsko.

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.

Betsko stressed to attendees Tuesday that signing up to become a member of the co-op doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t obligate anyone to sign a contract.

“You’re just signing up for the information,” she said.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205, mbates@chronicleonline.com.