Solar panels are more expensive. These organizations are making it cheaper for Hampton Roads homeowners.

·3 min read

On a dreary Thursday morning with the occasional jet flyover, a crew worked quickly to install a rooftop solar system on Katrina Dash’s bright blue two-story home near Langley Air Force Base.

Workers from Virginia Beach-based Convert Solar hauled panels the size of bedroom windows up ladders to finish the installation within 90 minutes.

Aaron Sutch, Atlantic Southeast region director for nonprofit Solar United Neighbors, hopes this will become more common in Hampton Roads. But the solar industry is facing several headwinds, making the process more expensive for consumers. Supply chain issues and inflation are driving up costs, and a federal rebate program is beginning to lapse.

Still, several Hampton Roads organizations, including a new solar co-op, are working to help homeowners learn more about the industry and drive down costs.

Solar panels are still a major investment for most homeowners, akin to buying a car, Sutch said. Currently, the average cost for solar panels is $2.77 per watt, according to the price comparison site EnergySage. That price translates into slightly more than $20,000 for an average residential installation.

Costs, at least in the short term, also have increased. The prices of solar materials such as polysilicon, silver, copper, aluminum and glass have gone up as much as 300%, according to analysis by Rystad Energy. Supply chain issues and high demand will continue to affect prices in the short term, Sutch said.

Another roadblock is a rapidly approaching sunset date for a large federal tax credit on solar installations. The credit, which can be claimed on federal income tax, is 26% of the cost of a solar installation. The credit amount decreases to 22% in 2023 and expires in 2024, unless Congress extends the program.

A returning Hampton Roads initiative is helping to mitigate those costs. Called a solar co-op or cooperative, the group allows dozens of Hampton Roads homeowners to negotiate the price of solar installations collectively. Solar United Neighbors will facilitate a competitive bidding process, and co-op members will select a single installer. They will then be able to choose to purchase both a solar array and an electric vehicle charger.

Along the way, homeowners will be able to learn more about the technology and how much solar energy will save on electric bills, Sutch said.

“Our job is to give the participants as many tools as they need to make an informed decision,” Sutch said.

Virginia co-ops organized by Solar United Neighbors, including some in Hampton Roads, have installed panels at 1,099 homes and businesses at a value of $23.5 million.

Dash said environmental concerns drove her to research solar power and install her array. She began looking into the technology soon after purchasing her home in October.

“That’s something that’s really important to us, is making our own clean energy and trying to reduce our footprint as much as possible,” Dash said.

For the project, Dash partnered with Solarize Virginia, a program organized by the Virginia nonprofit Local Energy Alliance Program. It works in a similar way to a co-op program, said director Katie VanLangen. Homeowners are educated throughout the process, and Solarize selects veteran solar installers with bulk rate pricing.

“We’re seeing rates that are 10% to 20% below market value,” VanLangen said.

In addition to paying upfront out of pocket, many homeowners elect to finance the arrays through multiyear loans, said Melissa Duenas, a representative from Convert Solar. Dash elected to pay through a 20-year loan, which will work out to around $150 a month — about the same as her current electric bill.

Just like the federal tax credit, the Hampton Roads co-op is time sensitive. It closes to new members on Oct. 31. For more information, visit solarunitedneighbors.org.

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, trevor.metcalfe@pilotonline.com