Installing solar panels can reduce homeowners’ electricity bills over time, but they can be pricey at the onset and that’s where a partnership between the city of Charlottesville and the nonprofit Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) comes in.
Through their cooperation, the partners hope to make going solar easier and less expensive for city residents.
Through June 30, Charlottesville homeowners and businesses can sign up for the Solarize Cville program to receive a free solar satellite assessment and get discounted prices and vetted installers.
“Our goal is to be a resource and a helping hand to walk folks through the process and to connect folks with trusted installers that are going to be providing discounted rates for participants,” said Katie VanLangen, LEAP’s director of the Solarize Cville program. “We’re able to get these discounted rates because we have so many people signing up that they are able to give us essentially bulk pricing; it’s not going to be free. It’s about making it easier and more affordable and knowing that you are going to see savings right off the bat.”
Total installation price varies by individual home or business, but VanLangen said the discount would bring the cost down between 10% and 20% percent of the market rate. That makes solar power available at about $10,000 to $25,000 in total cost per home.
While the program isn’t new to the city — it started in 2014 — this year the city and LEAP have been promoting it because the Federal Solar Income Tax Credit, which is given to homeowners who install solar panels, is dropping from 26% to 22% at the end of 2022.
“A really big push of our program this year in particular is letting people know that, if they want to get that 26% credit, they need to sign up and get their system installed by the end of the year. So we’re encouraging folks to sign contracts with their installers by the end of August in order to get credit by the end of the year, reducing the actual costs that folks are paying for their system,” VanLangen said.
Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection program manager, said the city partnership with LEAP is part of the city’s efforts to reach its climate goals.
“It really helps in meeting the city’s climate goals in terms of bringing that local clean energy into our community,” Elliott said.
Another goal of the program is to help educate interested homeowners and make sure what they’re getting is legitimate and fairly priced.
“There’s a lot of confusion in the market, there’s a lot of barriers to entry. People don’t really know who to trust when there’s people knocking on doors, promising things that might be too good to be true,” VanLange said. “And as a local nonprofit, we really just want to serve as kind of a trusted partner through the process.”
Since 2014, 714 solar system contracts have been signed through LEAP’s Solarize programs across the state, generating more than 6.3 megawatts of solar capacity and over $17 million in value.
Elliott said there are both environmental and economical benefits to solar panel installation.
“In terms of reducing the carbon emissions that we’re putting up into the air, every kilowatt hour of clean energy is a kilowatt of emissions that we’re not using,” she said. “The panels do end up paying for themselves over their lifetime and anything that comes off your utilities bill over time can go back into the local economy. Solar panel installation is creating new jobs within our community, which is fantastic.”
Elliott also said a benefit of solar panels is that once they’re installed, they’re typically low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of repairs.
VanLangen said Solarize Cville looks for certain criteria when assessing a home’s viability for solar panel installation. These can include the age of the roof, whether the roof has a southern facing part, the presence of chimneys and dormers, and tree cover.
But VanLangen said each case is very different, and different solar panel systems may be determined to be better for different homes. This can include different numbers of panels, or even installing panels in the ground instead of the roof.
Homeowners interested in the program and receiving a free solar satellite assessment should sign up by June 30 on solarizeva.org/solarize-interest-form/.