Solar Urbana-Champaign, a partnership between the City of Urbana and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), is making it easier and more affordable for home and business owners in Champaign-Urbana to go solar.
Solar Urbana-Champaign is a group-purchasing program available to all residents in Champaign County. The program began on December 2nd with a standing-room-only information session at Common Ground Co-op. Community members have until May 31st to sign up for the program and receive the benefits of lower-cost solar energy.
“This program is a grassroots effort to make solar more affordable,” said Peter Murphy of MREA. “The group purchasing program pools everyone’s money, like in a co-operative, to lower the cost for everyone.”
Participating in the program makes solar energy cheaper per watt than what individuals can typically find on the market. Also, the more people participate, the more the overall price lowers. Once program participants collectively reach 100kW of capacity, everyone will get an additional 1% off their energy costs, with further discounts guaranteed as higher kW capacity is reached.
The City of Urbana and MREA completed a competitive bidding process to select the most affordable solar installation company. They selected StraightUp Solar, a company based in St. Louis, as the contractor for Solar Urbana-Champaign.
According to Mike Hornitschek of StraightUp Solar, his company manages the entire process: conducting site assessments, performing the installation, and maintaining the solar panels once they are installed. “Our goal is to be a trusted partner for the long haul,” he said.
StraightUp Solar was founded in 2006 by Dane Glueck, who — according to Hornitschek — grew up in Kentucky and saw first-hand the environmental damage caused by the coal industry. Glueck decided to install solar energy in his home in 2005, which was a difficult process without tools and education to navigate the solar energy market. After studying solar energy, Glueck became the first person in the state of Missouri certified to install solar panels. StraightUp Solar now services communities throughout Missouri and Illinois.
Solar Urbana-Champaign seeks to ease the process of learning about solar energy for home and business owners. A key aspect of the program, said Murphy, is its education component. MREA has set up a series of information sessions called “power hours” to inform community members about the basics of solar.
“These sessions give people as much information about solar in one hour as it might otherwise take a week’s worth of research to get,” said Murphy.
Upcoming Power Hours
Date: Sunday, 2/7
Location: First Presbyterian Church of Urbana
602 W Green St, Urbana, IL 61801
Date: Wednesday, 2/24
Time: 5-7pm with additional information from the USDA about solar for farms
Location: Champaign County Farm Bureau
801 North Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821
Date: Thursday, 2/25
309 W Green St., Urbana, IL 61801
Date: Monday, 2/29
Location: Common Ground Food Co-op
300 S. Broadway Suite 166, Urbana, IL 61801
Although the City of Urbana is spearheading the program, anyone in Champaign County can take advantage of Solar Urbana-Champaign. So far, says Hornitschek, the response from the community has been overwhelming. As of February 3, StraightUp Solar is nearing its goal of 100 kW of solar installations. So far, Hornitschek said his company is currently working with seven firm sales, roughly fifty proposals, and over 200 leads for solar energy installation from home and business owners in the community. These numbers amount to 50 kW of solar installation contracts to date.
The first installation took place this week:
Dozens of cities across the country, including Chicago, Milwaukee, and Portland, have successfully participated in solar group-purchasing programs. Hornitschek said that Champaign-Urbana is the perfect community to succeed with a solar group-purchasing program.
“This is an academic community with a good mindset about environmentalism,” he said. “Lots of people in town have been quick to recognize the message of Solar Urbana-Champaign as well as the opportunity to get cheap solar energy. So far, we’ve gotten more of a response from Champaign-Urbana than from many of the other communities we have worked with.”
Both Murphy and Hornitschek commented that the partnership with the City of Urbana has been going smoothly, and Solar Urbana-Champaign is on track to exceed its initial goal of adding 100 kW of solar energy to C-U.
“We are excited to put Champaign-Urbana on the solar map," said Hornitschek.