Beginning Sept. 3, the town will become a part of the Solarize movement.
Solarize Chapel Hill is a grassroots program that connects solar energy installers with homeowners and businesses. The program seeks to make energy less expensive in the long run through group discounts and tax incentives.
The initiative has selected local solar companies Southern Energy Management and Yes! Solar Solutions to complete the installations. The companies will conduct free home assessments for those who sign up for the program, allowing each property owner to receive a personal plan.
Solarize Chapel Hill is an extension of Solarize Carrboro, which put solar panels on 40 Carrboro rooftops last spring.
Rob Pinder — executive director of NextClimate, a nonprofit focusing on climate change — helps run the program. He expects to extend it to all Orange County due to popular demand.
“People have long viewed solar as something that is just on the horizon, but not quite attainable for regular folks,” Pinder said.
In order to help spread this initiative, Solarize Chapel Hill will host free public information sessions, the first of which is Sept. 3 at the Chapel Hill Public Library at 6:30 p.m.
The organization is also promising to donate an educational solar installation to a school in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district.
Each resident who signs up to participate is allowed to vote for a school to receive an installation, and the school with the most votes will receive it, Pinder said.
The initial cost of the solar panels is $16,000 per household or business, which is 20 percent less than the national average, but will continue to decrease as more residents sign up for the program. With tax credits, the final cost will be around $7,000.
“The savings on your utility bill can easily pay back this cost well before the 25-year lifetime of your panels,” Pinder said. “The price for solar has come down considerably in recent years.”
Gabriel Guillois, manager of The Lundy Group, is involved with alternative energy through the group’s Greenbridge Condominiums, which already use solar energy to heat water. As a result, the building saves money on energy costs and taxes due to government energy credits.
“We support anything that lowers energy costs and promotes conservation,” Guillois said.
Chapel Hill resident Don Pinney said he also supports Solarize Chapel Hill. He said he does not currently use solar energy but is interested in how the program will decrease the cost of energy.
Carla Banks, Orange County director of public affairs, said moving toward solar energy will benefit Orange County residents.
“Any opportunity for residents to take advantage of state and national tax credits is a good thing,” she said.
Solarize Chapel Hill is one of many similar movements throughout North Carolina, including those in Asheville, Raleigh and Durham.
“Solar lets people take charge of their electricity needs,” Pinder said. “It keeps our energy dollars in the local economy and supports local construction jobs.”