Want to go solar? There's a new co-op for that in Collier County
Jody Finver, South Florida Program Coordinator, Solar United Neighbors of Florida, talks about her group's mission and the new Solar Co-op in Collier County.
A Solar Co-op has launched in Collier County to make going green more affordable for residents and small businesses.
The League of Women Voters of Collier County has teamed up with Solar United Neighbors of Florida to create the co-op, which was officially announced Thursday at the Naples Botanical Garden in East Naples.
It's free to join the co-op and there's no requirement to buy or install solar power.
When at least 30 members sign up, the co-op will solicit proposals for competitive bids to find an installer, who will work with homeowners or business owners individually on projects.
Members will have more purchasing power as a group, allowing them to get a price break.
"It's less expensive because you are buying in bulk. Plus, there's a federal tax credit this year for it," said Patricia Forkan, chairwoman of the environmental affairs committee for the League of Women Voters in Collier County.
Years in the making
The local co-op — about two years in the making — was borne out of the strong interest the League saw in solar after hosting a presentation about it at the Naples Botanical Garden. It drew a crowd of about 100.
More than two dozen residents and business owners attended the launch event for the state's newest solar co-op. Forkan and other speakers encouraged the audience to spread the word about three information sessions that will be held about the initiative over the next few months.
"We hope there are people from all over the county who want to do this," Forkan said. "And we can get this installation started as soon as possible."
Forkan read a statement from former Naples Councilwoman Linda Penniman, who applauded the effort. Penniman planned to speak at the event before abruptly resigning from office Wednesday to spend more time with her husband due to his health. She's an advocate for solar power.
In her statement, Penniman said in 2015 she had the idea of installing solar panels at the city's two parking garages, but the rate of return was 16 years, so she decided not to present it to the council.
"I know the council would never be able to get their head around that number," she said. "Three years later that rate of return is closer to four years."
Penniman added the co-op program has been "much too long in coming."
A 'big deal'
Kevin Yue, chairman of the Collier County Solar Co-op, said the new group will work hard to help more people understand how solar power is good for homes, the environment and the community. His background is in environmental engineering and he works for Lipman Family Farms, where he's taken a lead on the company's sustainability efforts.
Any effort that helps the environment is a "big deal," he said.
Jim Henderson, CEO of William C. Huff Companies, a moving and storage company in East Naples, spoke about the benefits of the solar power he installed at his headquarters. He has 528 panels on his roof and they're saving him a lot of money on his monthly electrical bills.
"We have to do it one thing at a time," Henderson said. "Everything we do makes an impact."
Henderson hopes the new initiative will speed up the green movement in Collier County. A few years ago, he said he adopted a new motto: "Be the difference you want to see in the world."
He's also building a solar-powered house.
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Going green comes with benefits
For a business being environmentally friendly has more benefits than just lowering its energy costs, Henderson said.
"In doing what we do we're able to market to a wider market and get new customers that are looking for businesses that are green," he said.
In 2018, Henderson said he increased his business by 37 percent over the year, due in part to his efforts to be kinder to the environment.
In three years, he said his solar panels have produced 534 megawatts of power. On average, one megawatt can power 164 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
With the help of the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors of Florida and in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Florida, more than 40 solar co-ops have formed in the state, including several in Miami-Dade County. The statewide program launched in 2016 and has grown with the help of many partners, including churches and local governments.
A statewide initiative
Jody Finver, South Florida program coordinator for Solar United Neighbors of Florida, drove to Naples from Miami in an electric car to be part of the launch of Collier County's Solar Co-op.
"Collier County, Palm Beach County, Broward, Monroe, Miami," she said. "We're covering the state with solar panels."
The success of the co-ops, she said, comes down to having strong local partnerships.
Her group, she said, with the help of many partners, has educated more than 9,300 Floridians about solar energy and helped nearly 1,300 homeowners go solar, resulting in more than $25.2 million in economic investments.
"Together, these homeowners are generating more than 11.7 megawatts of energy and will be offsetting more than 448 million pounds of carbon over the lifetime of their systems," Finver said.
Three sessions are planned to share information about the new Collier County Solar Co-op:
- Jan. 29, 6 p.m. Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Dr.
- Feb. 12, 6 p.m. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples, 6340 Napa Woods Way
- March 6, 6 p.m. St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 1101 N. Collier Blvd.
To learn more or to sign up, see solarunitedneighbors.org/collier