Frederick County’s solar co-op continues to grow as the new year begins.
The number of households interested in going solar has grown from 61 at the end of November to 78 the first week of January, said Corey Ramsden, the program director for MD SUN’s Frederick County solar co-op.
MD SUN is a state campaign run by Community Power Network to educate residents about solar energy and organize a group to install it cheaply. Homeowners typically save 20 percent with bulk purchases through a co-op.
The organization’s goal is to have the group of interested homeowners double to 150 members by the end of open enrollment on Feb. 28. Joining the group means a homeowner is interested, and not necessarily committed to installing a system.
Five homeowners have taken that step and accepted proposals from the co-op’s installer, Sustainable Energy Systems. The number of people accepting proposals is expected to increase with the holidays over, Ramsden said.
Marc and Susan Jones have lived in Middletown since 2002 and have been looking to add solar panels to their property for several years. Both formerly worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and consider themselves environmentally minded.
Because of the co-op , the idea makes economic sense, Marc Jones said. The couple will install a 15.66-kilowatt system on the south sides of their 24-foot utility shed and 48-by-36-foot horse barn.
“We sized it so that, hopefully, we’ll be at net-zero for our electrical use,” Marc Jones said, meaning the amount of power used will be about the same as what is generated.
Their home makes up a majority of the electrical bill, but a five-stall horse barn increases the bill during the winter so that they can heat water buckets, an outdoor water trough and a tack room, Susan Jones said.
Sustainable Energy Systems included an “energy audit” in its proposal, to look for any wasted energy. The Joneses are looking forward to the audit.
Frederick County staff released a flier mapping 74 homes in Middletown that have gone solar. The homes are not part of the co-op. However, two of the five homes to already accept proposals are in Middletown, including the Jones family, Ramsden said.
Joyce Tuten and her husband, James, went solar in 2013 during the Solarize Frederick purchasing program. When they moved to Middletown in 2012, a neighbor across the street had solar power. After they installed their system, another neighbor added solar, as well.
James Tuten is retired from the Army and works as a civilian contractor at Fort Detrick. Joyce Tuten taught environmental science at Frederick County Public Schools and currently teaches high school science in Montgomery County.
“I’m that crazy person that when lights are left on, I don’t see a light on, I see coal burning,” Joyce Tuten said.
The system Joyce and James Tuten installed on their two-story home covers the family of four’s annual electricity costs, except a connection fee, which is a little over $5 a month, she said.
The Tutens should break even on what they paid for the system and what they have saved on electricity costs within the first four or five years of running the solar panels, Joyce Tuten said. Essentially, the family bought 20 years of electricity at one time and paid it off in five years, she said.
Several new homes in Middletown are built on former farmland. The land has a limited number of trees and shading, which is good for solar panels, Joyce Tuten said.
Middletown hosted the most recent information session and has been supportive of the co-op, which is why it was featured on the county flier, Bonnie Griesemer, a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member working in the Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources, wrote in an email.
The Joneses read about the co-op in The Frederick News-Post and attended the Middletown meeting. The co-op made sense for them, because it vetted multiple solar installers, offered a good price with a long warranty and selected a local company, Marc Jones said.
All three of the Jones children are in college. While the price of the system was higher than the family wanted, Marc Jones said he still plans to see a return on the investment.
“As we get closer to retirement, we want to lower our bills,” Susan Jones said.
The final piece of the puzzle would be if Maryland could pass a law requiring utilities to pay homeowners with solar panels the price of energy as it is produced rather than a flat rate, Marcus Jones said. The price of energy fluctuates during the day when people are at work, compared to when they are asleep.
MD SUN will host a final information session on Wednesday at the C. Burr Artz Public Library in downtown Frederick. Sustainable Energy Systems will have representatives there to discuss the panels and systems with homeowners, Ramsden said.
“Once it’s demystified, people begin to get it,” Joyce Tuten said.