A second push for solar

Feb 25, 2021

Timm Johnson and Ana Scollon cheer on Solarize the Kenai outside of the Cook Inletkeeper Community Action Studio in Soldotna.
Credit Courtesy of Kaitlin Vadla

A cooperative buying campaign is pushing again to get discounted solar panels on more Kenai Peninsula roofs.

Volunteers from Solarize the Kenai mobilized 82 property owners last year to outfit their homes and businesses with panels. It’s a collective effort, so interested homeowners sign up in groups to get group rates.

Timm Johnson is a volunteer with the group. At an informational meeting Wednesday, he said solar panel technology became cost effective for Alaskans a few years ago. But with the industry still growing, he said some of the associated soft costs, like installation, are still high.

“So what we try to do is we buy in bulk in regional areas so that we can reduce those soft costs so that we can provide the solar installers a group of interested people within specific zip codes, and/or regional areas, and help them reduce their overhead and logistical costs of getting their people out," he said.

In 2020, Solarize the Kenai cut costs from $3 per watt to $2.70 per watt for users on the central and lower peninsula. This year, they’re looping in homeowners from Seward and Moose Pass, too.

There’s also a Solarize campaign in Anchorage, which installed panels in 75 homes last year, in its third year. Solarize Fairbanks, in its second year in 2020, installed panels in 77 homes.

Organizers said it’s a good deal for Alaskans since energy is so expensive in the state. Homer Electric Association members can also engage in net metering. 

“So what that means is that the utility — in this case, Homer Electric — takes the energy that you produce at your house, anything above and beyond what you don’t use there directly, and you’re actually supplying it to the utility and they distribute it elsewhere," said Steven Trimble, CEO of Alaska Arctic Solar Ventures. "And you get compensated for that.”

Even with support from local energy cooperatives, prices are contingent on state and federal policies. Alaska doesn’t have a state tax credit program to incentivize solar users. But the federal government does. This year, it’s offering a 26 percent tax credit to users to help with installation costs.

Solarize estimated the average homeowner could cover half of their home’s energy needs with 12 panels and save over $10,000 in the next 15 years. The environmental impact could be equivalent to keeping a car off the road for 12 years, according to the campaign.

River City Books outfitted its buildings with solar panels in 2019, a year before Solarize the Kenai's first push.
Credit Courtesy of Kaitlin Vadla

Businesses, too, can put panels on their buildings. The Grog Shop in Homer has 79 panels. Solarize estimated that will save the owner nearly $200,000 long-term.

That’s partly because the building has a flat roof that faces west. The orientation of the solar array plays a big role in maximizing savings.

Solarize the Kenai hopes to have a list of interested homeowners by March 8.

Kaitlin Vadla, the regional director of Cook Inletkeeper, said getting neighbors to spread the word is key to get more people signed up.

“My dad, Bruce Vadla, got very excited about this. And he is a very quiet guy," she said. "He is a general contractor in Soldotna. And he doesn’t go out and talk to his neighbors. But he did, last year. And multiple folks in his neighborhood solarized because he went out and talked to them.”

After a group gets together, it will then send out a request for proposals to solar installers. A committee of volunteers chooses an installer from the applicants.

Solarize hopes vendors will start negotiating contracts and installing panels by April. To register, visit solarizethekenai.org.

Correction: River City Books put solar panels on its building in 2019, a year before the first Solarize the Kenai campaign.