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The City of Urbana has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and the Grow Solar Partnership to coordinate a second solar group buy in Champaign County, building on the success of Solar Urbana-Champaign, which took place from December 2015 through June of 2016. The advantage of a group buy is the power of volume purchasing, which can significantly reduce the up-front costs of installing solar on your home or business. You do not need to be a City of Urbana resident to participate – the group buy is open to all Champaign County residents and business owners.

Dozens of solar group buys have been completed across the country in cities like Portland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, and in states from California to Vermont. Among all of them, there have been some common elements that led to success: competitive contractor selection, community-led outreach with a trusted community partner, and a limited-time offering.

Competitive Contractor Selection: Solar Urbana-Champaign’s advisory committee is comprised of representatives from the City of Urbana Sustainability Advisory Commission (SAC). MREA issued a competitive Request for Proposals and SAC selected a single installer to help carry out the program. This way customers get the simplicity of a single installer, plus the confidence that the selection was made from a number of competitive choices.

Community-Led Outreach: Solar Urbana-Champaign would not be possible without the strong support of the City of Urbana and local organizations. Are you part of a neighborhood association, nonprofit organization, school, or workplace that is excited about solar? Help us get the word out by distributing flyers or hosting a Solar Power Hour! Email to get started.

Limited-time Offering: Nothing motivates people like a deadline. The time-sensitive nature of the group buy adds urgency into the mix, and helps bring the price down for everyone. How? Read on.

PRICING

The key ingredient for most participants is the pricing for the group buy. The competitive bidding process ensures Solar Urbana-Champaign achieves a price per watt lower than any individual would generally be able to get on the market. In addition, the price comes down for everyone when certain benchmarks are surpassed. For example, once the participants of the group buy collectively reach 50 kW of capacity, everyone gets an additional reduction of the price of their array. An additional reduction of price happens at the 150 kW mark, and again at 250 kW.

The rebate is volumetric based on $.03/w discounts at each benchmark. For example, the home pictured at right has a 7.8 kW array (about 10,000 kWh production per year). If they installed that array through the program, the homeowner would get a rebate check at the end of the program depending on the overall program results. If the program total reached 50 kW, the homeowner would get a $234 rebate. If the program total reached 150 kW, $468. And if the program total reached 250 kW, $702. These discounts come off an already lower-than-usual price.

How is a solar installer able to offer such low prices through the program? There are two important factors: strong customer education and an economy of scale. 

Strong Customer Education: Crucial to the success of the program is the community outreach and education we do. The MREA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that does training and education around renewable energy, works with local organizations to schedule and facilitate a number of 1-hour-long Solar Power Hours around the community. These events help interested home and business owners determine whether solar is right for them. We’ll go over the basics of solar, market trends, financials, how to tell if your site is ready for solar, and how to participate in the Solar Urbana-Champaign. Getting well-informed participants to the table saves the installer hours and hours of marketing and education they would otherwise have to do themselves, and in turn saves you money.

Economy of Scale: Just like in a buyers club or co-op, the more people participate, the lower the cost is for the service provider (in this case, a solar installer), and the lower the prices are for participants. Your participation matters, and it always helps when folks talk to their friends and neighbors about the group buy.

WHAT NEXT?

Now that you’ve become familiar with how the program works, the next step is to become informed about purchasing solar. Click here to view the schedule for our upcoming Solar Power Hours and updates about the program. We’re excited to meet you and get started!

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

MREA

ABOUT THE INSTALLER

New Prairie Construction is a full-service, insured general contractor with an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau. They’ve been serving the Urbana-Champaign community for more than 29 years. In 2016, New Prairie helped customers save on solar panels for homes and businesses by participating in the Solar Urbana-Champaign Group Buy program. They were chosen to lead thesecond Solar Group Buy because of their high-quality solar installations, building science expertise, and emphasis on customer service. They are uniquely qualified to evaluate a homeowner’s energy needs, provide high-quality solar installations, and make homes more efficient, safe, and comfortable.

Solar Pergola by New Prairie Construction. Photo Credit: Paul Hixon

Solar Pergola by New Prairie Construction. Photo Credit: Paul Hixon

New Prairie is a member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the Illinois Solar Energy Association, and the Window Preservation Alliance.  They have both a North American Board of Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Certified PV Installation Professional™ and a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Certified Building Analyst and Home Envelope Specialist on staff. The company has won 21 preservation and business awards, and performs regular volunteer work in the community. Please visit New Prairie’s website to see project pictures and to learn more about their commitment to sustainable building practices.

SUCCESS STORIES

7/1/16 – Urbana, IL –  The Solar Urbana-Champaign program came to a close on May 31, helping 81 home and business owners install over 605 kW of solar in Champaign county. The program is result of the City of Urbana’s partnership with Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

Over 140 home and business owners received solar site assessments through the program, 81 of which have decided to go solar. Over the next year their combined energy cost savings will be greater than $67,000, and will offset over 1.1 million lbs of CO2.

In 2014 a similar program took place in Chicago, a city of nearly 2.7 million people, yielding similar results. MREA’s Market Development Coordinator, Peter Murphy commented on this success, “It’s amazing that the people of Champaign County installed as much solar in this program as Chicagoans did in their group buy.” The success of Solar Urbana-Champaign led to interest from Bloomington-Normal, where another solar group buy program is progressing.

Of the homeowners who have gone solar, Marian and Dave Stone shared a valuable insight about their decision. According to Marian, “My husband and I have long felt it’s important for society to move away from fossil fuels. We also believe one has to act, not just talk. Over the past 10 years we have included environmental costs in decisions we make about our lifestyle, not just financial costs.” Adding, “We investigated both wind and solar and decided a couple of years ago that for our situation, solar was preferable….This program made it economically feasible. We can confidently say we would not have solar without the program.”

The City of Urbana’s Climate Action Plan and the City of Champaign’s Sustainability Plan are seeing benefits from the program, as they work toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in the City of Urbana by 2020. The solar program allows participants to produce their energy in a cleaner, efficient, and economically sound manner. “Support for renewable energy is really broad and we’re seeing just how much interest there is now that we have this bulk purchasing opportunity.” Says Scott Tess, Environmental Sustainability Manager for the City of Urbana.

At the close of the program, Murphy noted, “Our partnerships with the City of Urbana and StraightUp Solar have helped surpass every single one of our benchmarks. Seeing this type of solar support and enthusiasm shows that the people of Champaign County are dedicated to a sustainable future.”

For more information about Solar Urbana-Champaign visit solarurbanachampaign.com. To request a solar program in your community visit www.growsolar.org.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational organization. Founded in 1990, the MREA promotes renewable energy and sustainable living through education and demonstration and hosts The Energy Fair. To learn more, call 715-592-6595 or visit midwestrenew.org The Group Buy Program is brought to you by the MREA with support from promotional partner the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.

Solar Chicago logo

Solar Chicago was a community-wide residential group solar discount program that was offered by the City of Chicago, the World Wildlife Fund, ELPC and Vote Solar. Chicago and surrounding communities participated in this program to help homeowners of single-family homes and 2-flats pool their buying power for solar.

Through the efforts of many people and organizations around Chicagoland, over 2,100 people registered for the program resulting in over 400kW of newly contracted solar capacity.

MkeSolarGroupBuysThe City of Milwaukee has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance to coordinate neighborhood-based group buys in the City of Milwaukee.

The main focus and outreach is concentrated in the targeted neighborhoods. Solar group buys have been completed in several Milwaukee neighborhoods. As a result, 92 home and business owners have installed new solar electric and solar hot water systems totaling 322 kW of clean, renewable energy.