Members of a Houston Sun United Neighbors solar co-op gather in 2019, pre-pandemic, to celebrate their installs. Photos courtesy of Hanna Mitchell.

Nov. 30, 2020

A national solar power advocate has a warning for anyone who wants to protect their wallet from rising utility bills: time is running out.

Hanna Mitchell, the Texas program director for Solar United Neighbors, a non-profit organization on a mission to help homeowners put solar panels on their rooftop and shift the nation’s power grid to renewable sources, says that a federal tax credit that reimburses solar power adopters for up to 22 percent of their investment expires in 12 months.

“There is a federal tax credit that is set to expire by 2022. But there is still a tax credit in 2021,” Mitchell says.

“There is a federal tax credit that is set to expire by 2022. But there is still a tax credit in 2021,” Mitchell says.

The Federal solar investment tax credit for commercial and residential solar projects has for years offered homeowners a major incentive to sign on the dotted line to install solar panels on their rooftop, but it has dwindled from 26 percent down to 22 percent over the past several years as the tax law reaches its sunset after being phased out by Congress. The tax credit gives several thousand dollars back to solar adopters who undertake a typical solar installation.

Mitchell urged homeowners to take full advantage of the tax credit and lock in their utility rates to protect against ever-rising electricity costs.

In addition, she advised North Texans who want to explore solar power options, learn how to go solar and get the organization’s guidance on choosing the right installer, should sign up for the Dallas-Desoto Solar United Neighbor Co-op by Jan. 31, 2021.


Mitchell says the Dallas-Desoto SUN Co-op is looking to add 20 to 30 homeowners and business owners to its roll in the next few weeks.

“One of the ways that we help people go solar is through organizing bulk purchase programs, or solar co-ops," says Mitchell. "And the idea is that you get a group of people in a relatively similar geographic area who are all interested in going solar around the same time, and this helps bring down both the cost and the hassle of the installation.”

She says meeting the Jan. 31 deadline will ensure that new co-op members will have ample time to attend the co-op's Solar 101 session online and learn all the basics of solar power and coordinate with other members who will soon be choosing an installer for their own solar power projects. New members will be accepted after the deadline, but Mitchell encourages anyone who’s thinking about going solar to join by the deadline to ensure they get all the benefits of co-op.

“We facilitate public solar information sessions. We are doing these on the internet online these days on Zoom. But we will go over Solar 101 on how solar technology works, on the economics as well as our co-op process and considerations for going solar in Texas,” Mitchell says. “To sign up, it is always cost and commitment free. To join our solar co-ops is just indicating that you are seriously interested in installing solar for your home or small business.”

Anyone in the Dallas-Desoto area can join the co-op through the co-op’s web page. After signing up, new members will be contacted for a roof review. Joining is free of charge, and there’s no contract to sign or obligation to fulfill in order to participate in the group.

“Once we have a critical mass to go out to bid, Solar United Neighbors issues a request for proposals on behalf of the group, and it's always up to members of the coop to select the installer for the group. Then if you are interested in moving forward with your installation, you’re not in a position to be signing or declining a contract until after the installer that the group has chosen does that individual proposal for each member,” Mitchell says.

“We stay in contact with both the installer and the group through the end of the installation, just to have that extra layer of consumer advocacy and protection and answer any questions that come up from co-op members over the course of the process, and also ensure a better experience for the installer, too - if they're having any trouble reaching people, we can also provide them with extra support. So, we really do stay involved for each stage of the process.”

Solar install in College StationSolar panels installed in 2020 on the roof of a College Station SUN solar co-op member. Courtesy of Hanna Mitchell.


Mitchell says that local SUN co-ops form when someone who’s interested in installing a solar project reaches out to SUN for guidance. SUN then helps in forming the co-op to bring a larger group of interested home and business owners into the process to maximize its bargaining power when choosing a solar installer. The co-ops also help SUN reach solar adopters more efficiently than a string of one-on-one interactions would involve.

“We always encourage everyone who joins to help spread the word. And then we of course, help spread the word and continue doing information sessions,” Mitchell says.

The motivations for joining a SUN co-op and undertaking a solar installation are diverse Mitchell says. 

“Some benefits of solar include locking in your long term energy costs. Some folks are looking to go solar to build the value of their home. Some people are really taking pride in producing their own power. And of course, because solar electricity does not produce emissions, you're supporting clean air and clean water, as well as local clean energy jobs.”

Mitchell says anecdotally that although results can vary from project to project, solar adopters in the Dallas-area have worked out contracts that pay off their solar installation in 10 - 15 years, after which they continue to reap the cost-saving benefits of their systems for the remaining lifespan of the collectors.

“One of one of the questions that we most frequently encounter is, ‘What does my payback rate look like?’ And ‘How does my solar interact with my utility bill?’” Mitchell adds. “Through our partnership with Texas Power Guide, we've been able to provide more clear answers to people on this. We're able to do custom retail electricity reports, so if people have questions about what they should be considering when looking around for a retail electricity provider, that's the service that we are building out to help answer those questions.”

Mitchell says that although solar power was once the pursuit of people motivated by a drive to become independent from the conventional power grid at any cost, progress in the industry has now made solar power the choice for people who are driven solely for economic reasons, too, especially in view of the recent pandemic and its effects on the economy.

“In the world of locking in your long term electricity costs, that is something some people feel provides them peace of mind - to sort of know what they're going to be paying for electricity in the long term,” Mitchell says.


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