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Piedmont Environmental Council launches Solarize Piedmont campaign

If you’ve dreamed of installing solar panels on your home or business to cut energy costs but can’t wade through the logistics, a relatively new campaign from a local environmental nonprofit can see your project through.

To launch their second Solarize Piedmont campaign, a grassroots effort to bring solar electricity to more people across the Commonwealth, Piedmont Environmental Council President, Chris Miller, unveiled the solar electricity panels on their newly renovated, historic Old Town Warrenton offices.

“We’re not trying to remove ourselves from the larger system, we just want to contribute whatever we can to the long term solution,” Miller said.

PEC’s system was actually arranged and installed through the online portal found on their own website, the same way they are inviting Fauquier residents to do, to Miller’s amusement. Their 10 kilowatt system uses 38 panels and cost around $34,000. He expects to save $2,000 in the first year.

“As a nonprofit, that’s lot of capital,” Miller said. “But we still think it’s a good investment.”

Over a 25-year lifespan, Miller expects about a 7.5 percent return on the investment, better than many other financial investments, he said. More importantly, the solar panels are just one part of the group’s core function as an organization.

To get started with Solarize Piedmont, just sign up on the PEC website and send a letter of interest along with your address and recent electric bills to the Local Energy Alliance Program, LEAP. They will do a satellite assessment of your property to find its “solar potential” and then pass the info to their installer, Solar Solutions for All.

“If you decide to move forward, the installer obtains all the necessary permits, orders the materials and equipment and takes care of the installation,” Miller said.

Eleven people finalized contracts through last year’s Solarize Piedmont campaign. Each of them, including PEC, can track their energy production online. PEC even posted a link to their statistics for anyone to see.

Watsun Randolph and Tiffany Parker, both PEC employees, used the program to install a solar system on their Warrenton home.

“It was basically like buying a car,” Randolph said.

The whole process took less than three months and was incredibly easy compared to trying to figure it out themselves, they said. Parker said she felt like she was going down the rabbit hole when researching on her own.

They said it saved them about half of their energy costs during the winter, but the summer is when the system will really shine. The serious summer sun should drastically offset air conditioning costs, they said.

Andrew Grigsby of LEAP said they got into the solar business because people are excited about it. They got into the conversation when they heard so many people dreaming of sustainable systems but waiting for prices to come down. LEAP is now helping many people and businesses like PEC produce at least half of their own energy.

“Imagine if everyone did that around the whole grid, it would transform our nation," Grigsby said. "And it’s completely do-able.”

He said some homeowners might get lost in research before ever getting the chance to meet an installer.

“We’re here to help you pull the trigger because we’ve done the research,” Grigsby said.

Delegate Randy Minchew of Loudoun, a republican from Virginia’s 10th district, was on hand to support the local effort for renewable resources. Minchew is looking forward to a bipartisan, bicameral committee to focus on crafting passable legislation for solar tax credits in order to catch up to neighboring states.

He wants to see his fellow legislators say ‘We’re going to do something with solar. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for too long.’

“I do not care if my name is a chief patron of this bill, I want to see something get done,” Minchew said.

Virginians spent about $1.5 million in solar project contracts despite the lack of tax credit programs in the Commonwealth, according to Bob Lazaro, director of regional sustainable energy policy for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, a partner in the Solarize Piedmont campaign.

But Virgians still generate far less solar power than neighboring states, he said. For example, Frederick County, Md., generates more solar than the entire Commonwealth, according to Lazaro.

“If we can improve incentives, we can start to address the huge difference between Maryland and Virginia,” Miller said. “ And we have to be honest that it’s the utilities that are blocking a lot of that."

“This is Groupon for solar,” Lazaro said. “It takes the mystery out of it.”


Based on PEC’s history of harassing landowners, expect them to start strong arming people that don’t solarize.

Expectations of rising cost of electricity, county property tax benefits, federal tax credit, selling electricity generated via solar on the renewable energy market, and the actual monthly savings of producing your own power are all factors in the ROI.  Solar is much more realistic today than it was years ago - technology is better and costs are lower.  VA is behind other states regarding adoption of solar - look out west and you’ll find solar to be mainstream.  This promotion PEC is doing is a great way for people to learn more about solar.  Really is silly that we don’t harness more of the sun’s energy to make our own.

Can someone explain how they expect to recoup 7.5%?  By my calculations, the cost of capital alone is 7% or $2400/yr.  That is just the debt service cost and does not even include recouping your capital investment.  Unless there is data we are missing, this has a negative return on investment.

Tax credits means I have to subsidize (pay) for yet another government program.  Since when is Maryland a model state??

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