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Compass E co SUNSHINEY DAYS Solar co-ops help bring affordable green power to homeowners. Based on the same principal as buying in bulk, co-op members purchase solar panel systems together to save money and make the process less daunting. TEX T BY SANDY LINDSEY Most homeowners faced with steep electric bills month after month can agree on one thing: Solar Power is the future. Yet most homeowners soon feel overwhelmed not only by the investment expense but by navigating this bright new world of alternative energy. That’s exactly what happened to Anya Schoolman, Community Power Network’s Founder & Executive Director, who formed the group after she tried to install solar on her Mount Pleasant home in 2007 and saw how challenging the process was. “We thought if we got enough neighbors together who wanted to adopt solar arrays, some solar contractor would offer us big discounts,” she says. “We got the neighbors together and quickly learned it was going to be a lot more complicated than we originally thought.” As a result, Schoolman and her neighbors set out to educate themselves about all aspects of solar and to share that knowledge with as many people as possible. “That’s where the ‘cooperative’ concept really proved valuable,” she says. Getting competitive bids, choosing a contractor, arranging financing, exploring tax breaks and incentives, estimating how much the homeowner will actually save, and estimating how much the system will increase the value of the house is much easier when one is not alone in the process. FL-SUN, a project of the Community Power Network, has 6 active co-ops in Miami-Dade alone. Members have access to a national network of solar homeowners, practitioners, partners, policy experts and policymakers. For most people, it comes down to the bottom line, so if you want to talk in dollars and cents, the average co-op discount is 10-20% off system costs plus a 30% Federal Tax Credit. “Ignore everyone who tells you it’s too hard, too expensive, or any other excuse,” advises Schoolman. “Americans spend billions each year on anti-wrinkle creams and no one tries to tell them they are wasting their time and money.”; FL-SUN.org/Miami-Dade. 36