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Solarize Carrboro initiative aims to bring solar panels to Carrboro homes

Sunlight might soon power 100 Carrboro homes as a solar energy initiative launches, echoing similar projects across the state.

Solarize Carrboro is a solar energy project meant to reduce the cost and difficulty of installing solar panels in residential areas.

More than 50 Carrboro homeowners have indicated interest in having solar panels installed.

“It pays for itself, your electricity bill is lower and you’re helping with climate change,” said Carrboro resident Sally Robertson, who signed up. “Increasingly it makes sense not only for environmentalists, but for anybody just economically.”

Robertson said a barrier is the initial cost of building solar panels.

“If you don’t have the money up front and can’t qualify for a loan, it might be hard to get into,” said Robertson, who also works with the energy organization N.C. WARN. “It’s still expensive, even though it’s a lot cheaper than it used to be.”

Rob Pinder, the leader of Solarize Carrboro, said the average cost for solar panels on a home is about $15,000, but the project hopes to reduce that to $5,000 with tax breaks and discounts. Solarize Carrboro is currently accepting applications from solar installers it may contract to provide the panel installations.

The project is modeled after the first solarize project in Portland, Oregon, in 2009.

To reduce solar panel installation costs, Solarize Carrboro partners with local solar businesses to offer homeowners group discounts on the panels. The project aims to have 100 homeowners sign up by its official launch event in April so the panels can be installed by year’s end.

Homeowners who sign on will receive a free home solar assessment and guidance throughout the permit, purchase and installation processes.

“Our goal is to prime the pump and get neighbors talking to each other,” Pinder said.

“We hope to help people see how simple it can be, and how much you can save from doing solar.”

In addition to its residential goals, the project began a community solar project with McDougle Middle School to provide an accessible option for those whose homes are not fit for solar paneling.

Community members can contribute funds to build solar panels at the school. Students will use a solar meter to determine the best spot on school grounds for the panels.

UNC seniors Drew Chandler and Michael Balot serve as interns for Solarize Carrboro and are in charge of organizing the school project.

“We sent an email to the principal and one of the teachers (at McDougle) and they were overwhelmingly excited,” Balot said.

Ruben Giral, a science teacher at McDougle who is helping to organize the project, said students and staff are enthusiastic about solar energy and environmental awareness.

“I’m really psyched that these kids are on fire with this,” he said. “They come up and say, ‘Can you help us with this?’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding? I’m a teacher, that’s what I dream about.’”

Similar projects are launching in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, and a successful project was completed in Asheville.

Pinder said Solarize Carrboro will also work closely with the Town of Carrboro and with Chapel Hill’s recent solar energy initiative to get the word out.

“I hope to see beyond this that people move from solar seeming way out in the future to seeming like something that really works right now,” he said.

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