Solar Energy Is Better with Neighbors: Orlando's 2nd Co-op

This blog was co-authored with Ben Stacey, Climate Advisor.

Chris Castro, Director of the Office of Sustainability and Resilience, City of Orlando became a solar co-op member in 2019, alongside over 60 other households.

Going solar can be intimidating to some, but Orlando homeowners interested in solar energy upgrades don’t have to go at it alone. On June 5th, 2020 (World Environment Day), the City of Orlando launched its second solar co-op, providing residents an opportunity to come together to learn the ins and outs of the solar process and get a bulk purchasing price on a home solar installation. For safety’s sake, this year’s co-op support was completely virtual.

Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer set ambitious climate change goals for the city to achieve 100% renewable energy community-wide by 2050. To get there, residential solar will play a considerable role. With over 250 residents joining the first co-op in 2019 and 130 residents signed-up a month into the 2nd co-op, it highlights the growing demand for residential solar energy even during a pandemic. And with local residential solar installations growing at more than 50% year after year since 2014, the message is clear—residents want more solar.

Solar co-ops are a part of Orlando’s commitment to expand community solar programs under the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. The city is partnering with Solar United Neighbors (SUN)—a national nonprofit that residents that are interested in solar power—and the Solar Energy Loan Fund (SELF)—a Florida-based lending organization that provides finance options to low-income homeowners—to make that commitment a reality. 

What is a solar co-op?

Here’s how it works: interested residents sign up to to become solar co-op members at no cost, attend an educational workshop on solar systems and finance (facilitated by SUN experts), select a solar installer for the co-op (vetted by SUN), receive a free evaluation and proposal from the installer, and finally, schedule their installation. SUN experts provide unbiased support through each step of the process, ensuring co-op members have the best information at hand.

Why are residents so eager to join solar co-ops? Solar co-ops combine the best of both worlds. Homeowners get one-on-one attention and sign off an individualized plan for their household; they also get a built-in network of support, educational resources, and bulk purchasing power. The co-op is free to join, and members have no obligation to install solar at the end of the process. All residents of Orange County, including the City of Orlando, are eligible to participate.

A shining example

With just one year under its (sun) belt, Orlando already has started strong when it comes to solar co-ops. As shared by SUN, the city’s 2019 co-op ranked number one out of 55 co-ops across Florida in terms of total installed capacity and resulting lifetime emissions offset. More than 60 households installed solar systems thanks to the co-op, for a combined total of over 700 kilowatts. This year, Orlando is aiming to add another 500 kilowatts of local, clean electricity via its co-op and have Orlando’s municipal utility, Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), is also expanding utility scale solar, bringing online 108.5MW of solar power this summer.

Powering local job growth

Solar systems come with community benefits—they improve air and water quality for individuals beyond just those that have solar on their homes and are major job creators—but solar co-ops can significantly amplify those benefits. 

According to a recent report by the Solar Foundation, solar employment increased 44 percent between 2014 and 2019—five times faster than job growth in the overall U.S. economy. The U.S. solar industry employed nearly 250,000 people as of 2019. Florida led the nation in terms of solar job growth last year, and the Sunshine State boasted the country’s second-highest number of solar jobs overall, with more than 12,000 solar workers.

Collectively, solar co-ops in the U.S. have contributed $93 million to the solar industry. Solar installations provide a boost to local economies, and co-ops decide where they want to invest their dollars.

For solar-curious Orlandoans, the Orlando co-op will be open for sign-ups through September 15, 2020. 

About the Authors

Eloisa Portillo-Morales

City Strategist, American Cities Climate Challenge

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