A special program that CUB works on ended 2022 with 76 properties contracted to install solar panels in the coming months–a potential total savings of more than $71,000 for participants in the first year alone. After a year of elevated global energy costs, these Chicago-area residents are moving toward renewable energy and securing affordable electricity for years to come.
Grow Solar Chicagoland, an initiative of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and CUB, helps make navigating the solar market easier and more affordable. The program uses the power of bulk purchasing to secure a lower base price for solar panels, and includes a rebate that gets larger as more participants are added. This means that by sharing the program with family and friends, participants can turn grassroots interest into savings on their new solar arrays.
This year the program surpassed two benchmarks, providing a discount of over $600 in addition to federal and state rebates.The program is expected to save all participants $71,297 in the first year alone, or an average of $950 per household (depending on usage and system size).
Returning to Chicagoland after a hiatus in 2021, this year’s program kicked off in May and provided free, one-hour long educational sessions for members of the public. The program hosted 48 in-person and virtual presentations called “Solar Power Hours” and educated over 1,150 community members about solar energy.
“We’re trying to simplify the process of going solar,” said Marta Monti, MREA Solar Program Director. “It can seem complicated, so we present clear information and answer folks’ questions at our Solar Power Hours, and then they can determine for themselves whether solar is right for them.”
Program participant Abigail Austin and her husband began thinking about solar energy after a friend installed panels, so they attended a Grow Solar info session. “When we learned more about solar and about the incentives, including the solar group buy program, [we decided] adding solar panels to our home was affordable and money well spent,” Austin said. “Sitting through the initial webinar with Grow Solar Chicagoland was great because it was a no-pressure, easy-to-understand look at adding solar panels to our home.”
Rising energy prices and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August may have increased interest in solar energy and the group buy program. The IRA extended the existing solar federal tax credit for 10 more years and raised the credit amount to 30% of the array’s cost.
“In an uncertain world, solar power provides a level of stability, since you’re essentially buying decades of your energy up-front,” said Jeff Schneider, program coordinator for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. “Unlike utilities, solar panels will never raise their rates. So by purchasing solar now, community members can protect themselves from future price hikes, which feels especially satisfying amid global inflation.”
Since 2019, Grow Solar Chicagoland has helped 282 properties go solar and has taught more than 2,000 Solar Power Hour attendees about the science and benefits of solar. In addition to the money saved on energy bills, the solar arrays installed through the program offset a significant amount of CO2 pollution each year, equivalent to 193,887 gallons of gasoline, or nearly 2 million pounds of coal burned.
Grow Solar Chicagoland 2022 was supported by a competitively-selected solar installer, Chicago-based Windfree Solar, as well as by a close partnership with CUB.
“As a consumer advocate that cares about lowering utility bills, CUB is glad to step up and provide folks in the community with unbiased information about the benefits of solar power,” said Marina Minic, solar programs administrator for CUB. “At a time of high utility bills, this group-buy program provides consumers with a money-saving option, and it makes solar power an even better deal than it already is.” (See Marina talk about solar on WGN-TV.)
She added that the program also was bolstered by support from dozens of municipalities, community organizations, churches, conservation groups and county officials. These partners were instrumental in promoting the program and hosting presentations across the large program area.