Solar Co-op Aims To Help Northern Indiana Residents Take Advantage Of State Incentives

Jun 21, 2021

A sign for the Northern Indiana Solar Co-op stands in the yard of Doug Anderson, a South Bend homeowner who installed a solar energy system in 2019.
Credit Gemma DiCarlo / WVPE Public Radio

With some state incentives for solar energy set to end next July, a co-op has launched to help Northern Indiana residents go solar before the deadline. 

Back in 2017, the state voted to lower net metering rates, meaning solar homeowners will receive less credit on their energy bill for the excess power they send back to the grid.

 

However, Hoosiers that install solar panels before July of next year are still eligible for those higher rates through 2032.

 

Dan Robinson, the Northern Indiana field organizer for Solar United Neighbors (SUN), said the Northern Indiana Solar Co-op will help homeowners in the South Bend-Elkhart region take advantage of those incentives. 

 

“We help educate them, get them connected to a business that the co-op members themselves have chosen to be the installer, we help connect them to that installer,” Robinson said. “We’re there to make it as easy as possible for people to go solar right now.”

 

The co-op is a joint effort between SUN and Solarize Indiana, and will offer webinars, seminars, free installation designs and group buys to members. 

 

South Bend homeowner Doug Anderson said he installed his solar energy system in 2019 after attending various Solarize programs. 

 

“I didn’t really know what it would take, what the investment would be, what my maintenance would be,” he said. “These programs are structured so that a layperson that’s just a homeowner can come in and go, ‘I’ve heard of this, what is this? I want to know more.’”

 

Between his home energy usage and two electric vehicles, Anderson estimates he’s saving over $1,500 a year in utilities. He said he expects a full return on his investment in eight-and-a-half years.

 

“I can’t put money in the market and guarantee that, I can’t put money in a savings account and do that,” Anderson said. “But I can put an investment in my home and look at these utilities savings.”

 

Anderson said he thinks solar installation is “completely doable” for the average homeowner. But, he said you do have to own a home rather than rent one, and there is an up-front cost – he said a system like his goes for about $20,000.

 

“I think the biggest hurdle people will think of is, ‘Where am I gonna get the money?’” Anderson said. “As long as you can work with your lending institution, all of them lend for solar – no problem at all, no questions about it. If you have equity in your home, you can use that to buy your system.”

 

Robinson said the co-op doesn’t currently have a program to sponsor low-income homeowners who are interested in solar. But, he said SUN has conducted several low and moderate-income solar installations in Indianapolis, and would be open to a similar program in South Bend.

 

“We’d be very interested if people would like to get involved in something like that to help support that, because it’s very important,” Robinson said. “We want to make solar available to everybody.”

 

The Northern Indiana Solar Co-op is open to home and business owners in the South Bend, Elkhart, Goshen, Plymouth and Warsaw areas, and is free to join.

 

The co-op is sponsored by several local governments and organizations:  

  • The cities of Elkhart, Goshen and South Bend 
  • The Michiana Electric Vehicle Network
  • Hoosier Environmental Council
  • Michiana Area Council of Governments
  • Center at Donaldson
  • Citizens Action Coalition
  • Earth Charter Indiana
  • Hoosier EVA
  • Hoosier Environmental Council
  • Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light
  • Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the Michiana Electric Vehicle Netowrk as the Michiana Electric Vehicle Council. It has since been corrected.

 

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

 

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