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Co-ops help homeowners turn purchasing power into solar power

Supporters of solar energy gather at the University of South Florida campus for the launch of a countywide co-op to make installation of solar rooftop panels more affordable.
[PAUL GUZZO   |   Times]
Supporters of solar energy gather at the University of South Florida campus for the launch of a countywide co-op to make installation of solar rooftop panels more affordable.
[PAUL GUZZO | Times]
Published Sep. 27, 2017

Florida is touted as the Sunshine State yet ranks 14th nationwide for solar power installations.

"New Jersey is number four," quipped Rick Garrity, retired executive director of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission. "We have to be ahead of New Jersey."

On Monday, Garrity served as emcee for the launch of a project he believes will help Florida one day obtain that No. 1 spot.

From the University of South Florida campus, the nonprofit co-op Florida Solar United Neighborhoods entered the Hillsborough County market.

SAVING WITH SOLAR: New co-ops will help Hillsborough, Pinellas homeowners

Known as FL SUN, the organization will teach Floridians about the benefits of distributed solar energy and help organize group solar installations

Using FL SUN to buy rooftop solar panels cuts consumer costs.

"If you go to a car dealer and say you want to buy one Acura, you will get a set price," Garrity said. "If you want to buy 200, it will be quite different."

Those who have used the co-op to equip their homes have saved an average of 20 percent on top the 30 percent federal tax credit still available for solar panel installation.

To become part of the county co-op, visit www.flsun.or, click on "Go Solar" and choose Hillsborough County. Then sign up and RSVP for one of the three information sessions to be held throughout the county over the next few months.

Once at least 30 residents register, the co-op will seek proposals from vendors, said Angela DeMonbreun, director of FL SUN.

Homeowners will receive individual proposals and then decide if they want to proceed.

"There is no obligation," DeMonbreun said. Nor is there a fee to join the co-op.

While all homes are candidates for rooftop solar panels, some are better than others, said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit that advocates for "responsible energy choices."

For instance, since solar depends on the sun, a home that is nearly all shaded by trees would obviously not work as well as one exposed to the sun.

Older roofs should be checked for durability, Glickman added, and flat ones without a lot of pitches and gables work best.

"A roof should have good spacing for the panels," she said.

The panels can withstand hurricanes, said Bakari Kennedy, director of facilities for Suncoast Credit Union. The credit union has 14 buildings in the state, including one in Riverview, using solar energy.

Hurricane Irma, he said, did not rip one panel from a roof.

Hillsborough is now one of 14 counties in the state to join FL SUN.

This local effort is supported by the Hillsborough County Commission, which voted 7-0 to provide $15,000 in funds to FL SUN for outreach efforts.

"We want to save taxpayer dollars," County Commissioner Pat Kemp said. "Right now, Florida is spending $58 billion a year on fossil fuels that come from out of state. This is a time to invest in our great natural resource."

Brenda Probasco is among the 240 residents of St. Petersburg to join that city's FL SUN co-op since 2016.

When she sought to install 15 solar panels as an individual, the cost was $12,500 for her 1,264-square-foot home. But as a co-op member, the price dropped to $9,600. With the federal tax credit, the total cost was $6,800.

Probasco's electric bill is now around $5.49 a month.

And when Hurricane Irma knocked out power most of her neighborhood's power, Probasco's home turned into ground zero for teenagers — to "charge their cell phones and Game Boys."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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