Oct. 18, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Three years ago, community and environmental groups came together in Portland to support a new idea intended to make solar energy easier to understand and more affordable for homeowners. The program — in which advocates simplified the decision-making process, reduced the costs and vetted contractors for reliability — was successful beyond expectations. Solar installations around that city skyrocketed by nearly 300 percent in the program’s second year, and contractors had more work than they could handle. In 2011, a similar program was launched in Santa Barbara, and 49 homeowners signed up to have their homes converted to solar energy. Now the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, in co-operation with the city and the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara, has launched a “Solarize Ojai” project. The coalition hopes to sign 20 or 30 homeowners for solar energy installations in the next couple of months, before the deadline expires in December. “For anyone in Ojai who has ever thought of going solar, now is the time,” said Meghan Birney, of the Community Environmental Council, which ran the program in Santa Barbara. “With Solarize Ojai, we help guide homeowners through the entire process as an unbiased expert resource, making it as easy as possible for everyone to go solar.” Homeowners also benefit from the falling price of solar panels, which now cost about a third less than they did five years ago, according to one government estimate. And in Ojai, the program allows homeowners to choose to lease a solar system, instead of buying one, reducing upfront costs by tens of thousands of dollars. “With leasing, homeowners basically pay a third party that owns the panels on their roof a monthly fee for the electricity they generate,” said Jefferson Litten, coordinator of the Solarize Ojai project. “We like to say that anyone paying an average of over a hundred dollars a month should look into it.” Litten said that buying a system through Solarize Ojai is estimated — including various rebates — to cost between $11,000 and $30,000, and leasing a system to cost $1,000 up front. Working with the city and the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, Litten and the Solarize Ojai project asked contractors interested in being part of the project for proposals. “We partnered with two California solar energy companies, California Solar Electric, of Ojai, and REC Solar, of San Luis Obispo. We do the outreach and the marketing and they do the actual installation,” Litten said. “They were selected and vetted based on the quality of their work, the technology and their local presence.” California Solar Energy’s Chelsea Campbell said her company was part of the program in Santa Barbara. “We really like the program,” she said. “It’s a different approach for us, working with a third party group, but we like to see people being educated about solar in general. We had a lot of success with it in Santa Barbara, and were happy when they decided to come to Ojai.” In the Arbolada, Donna and Jeff Meyer solarized their home in 2009. The project, with 42 solar panels, cost over $50,000 at the time, but Meyer is happy with the results. “It’s been a good investment,” he said. “We were paying an average of about $400 a month for our electricity, mostly for air conditioning on hot days, and now we’re paying about $900 to $1,000 a year. So I don’t have to worry about my electric bill, and can spend more time worrying about my water bill.” Residents interested in the project can learn more at www.SolarizeOjai.org or attend a workshop Nov. 1, at Chaparral Auditorium, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The program runs for only two months, with a deadline for signing up for an installation with a qualified contractor by Dec. 7.