From the road, Tom Anderson’s house looks like a typical Frederick County home. However, if you walk around to the back and peer up at the south-facing roof, the house tells a different story.
Anderson has spent decades improving his family home to make it more energy efficient. The roof was designed to jut out just far enough to shade the windows from the high summer sun while welcoming in lower winter rays. He installed a geothermal heat pump 30 years ago for heating and cooling the home and then a thermal water-heating system.
However, the roof full of solar panels is a much more recent addition.
“I used to be cheap, but now it’s cool,” said Anderson, who has incrementally decreased his utility bills through renewable energy projects.
After installing the first solar panels through the 2013 Solarize Frederick initiative, Anderson joined the Frederick County Solar Co-op this year. The county launched the co-op in September with MD SUN, a regional program of the Community Power Network, which promotes locally based renewable energy policies and projects.
Solar co-ops have popped up across the country as a way for homeowners to get discounts on systems by offering a contractor more work in centralized area. Frederick County’s homeowners saved approximately 20 percent through bulk purchasing with the co-op.
The co-op was open to homeowners, small businesses and organizations such as churches — though only households accepted contracts, Lisa Orr, county sustainability program coordinator, said in an email on Wednesday.
Approximately 18 percent of the 169 interested households signed contracts with Sustainable Energy Systems — the selected solar installer. The company would have liked more participation, but several factors may have limited the number of homeowners who accepted contracts, including the program’s start near Christmas and the presidential election, said Sales Manager Ryan Nicholson.
The co-op extended the deadline to sign contracts from Feb. 28 to May 31, which doubled the number of homes that ultimately accepted proposals.
The 30 solar arrays produce over 340,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, which is the equivalent average annual usage of 28 Maryland homes. The arrays are also expected to offset 127 tons of coal from being burned and 239 metric tons of greenhouse gases from being released each year, according to the county sustainability office.
While installing solar panels was one of the last items for Anderson to check off his list, it was one of the first for Gene Wilburn.
Wilburn installed approximately 20 solar panels to his roof this spring. The panels saved him $150 on his latest electricity bill, but an energy study of his home by Potomac Edison showed the house uses double the amount of energy that it should, he said.
The culprit is poor insulation, which he plans to address next. The solar panels currently meet 35 percent of his electricity needs, and Wilburn said he hopes that with improved insulation the array can meet 50 percent of his electrical needs.
Solar panels — which have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years — are a way to address electricity costs over the long term.
Robert Walker and Mary Lou Reidy’s decision to go solar through the co-op was mainly financial. The couple anticipates saving 40 percent on their electric bills with the 24 solar panels that were mounted to their garage roof in late March.
Walker and Reidy paid $16,000 upfront, but they expect their net cost to be closer to $10,000 after state and federal tax credits. In the next decade, they will break even on their investment from energy savings, Walker said.
“Where else can you get 9 or 10 percent back on investment?” Walker said.
Solar installation costs have also continued to decline, Anderson said. During the solarize initiative in 2013, he averaged $1,000 a panel before state and federal incentives that reduced the cost to approximately $750 per panel in 2017.
Even with the discounts, though, an overall glut of solar energy supply in Maryland and the subsequent low value of solar renewable energy credits — approximately $7.50 now versus over $150 in years past — may have influenced some people not to go solar during the co-op, Nicholson said.
A few contracts have trickled in since the official close of the Frederick County Solar Co-op, Nicholson said. But, for Nicholson, who grew up in Middletown, the opportunity to be the installer for Frederick County’s co-op is more than numbers.
“As a kid who grew up in Frederick, it was a true blessing to get to do this in my hometown,” Nicholson said.
Frederick County will celebrate the co-op’s achievements from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Gambrill Park Tea Room.