Community solar power is within reach

A worker cleans an assembled solar panel

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Lots of Americans want to bring their electricity bills down, and
solar energy's one way to do that. But for many homeowners, it's still too expensive to install a system. One group is trying to bring that cost down by encouraging American neighborhoods to pool their money together to buy their panels in bulk. From San Francisco, Lisa Desai reports.


Lisa Desai: Mike Friedman and Damien Bradley are getting ready for a dinner party.

Damien Bradley: We use alot of electricity. I'm a big fan of kitchen electrics.

But they aren't worried about their power bill, because that blender they're using is running on solar. The couple decided to buy panels when they found out about One Block Off The Grid.

Canvasser: Hi, how are you?

The group goes door to door around neighborhoods, and once they've signed up 100 homes, they use that as leveraging power to bargain with solar installers. That process lowered Mike and Damien's cost to $15,000, saving them a total of $6,000.

Mike Friedman: We wouldn't have done it otherwise. There would have been that sort of, just that much additional money that I didn't quite have or couldn't put my hands on.

Americans can get their hands on solar panels for alot less this year. Panel prices have dropped up to 40 percent. There's too many on the market, and not enough people buying them because of the recession. And there's a new 30 percent tax credit for homeowners who go solar.

Christopher Masys: This is our Sunnyvale Warehouse . . .

Christopher Masys is the sales manager of an installation company. He says the problem is that most homeowners don't understand the solar industry enough to bargain themselves.

Masys: A lot of folks don't feel necessarily comfortable that what they're hearing is a straight shot. They just wanna know they're making the right choice and if that is a good deal or not.

That's where One Block Off The Grid steps in. They teach the basics of solar through e-mails, tutorials -- even personal phone calls. Here in the Bay area, they've accounted for a quarter of solar installations and signed up 2300 homeowners looking to save some money.

Dave Llorens: That's still not enough to make a huge dent.

Dave Llorens is the founder of One Block off the Grid:

Llorens: We have to go even bigger than that. We need to create this sort of tipping point and understanding that solar can be cost-effective.

Right now, they're trying to do just that in New Orleans and Denver. If they're successful in those cities, they hope to help Americans go solar all over the country.

In San Francisco. I'm Lisa Desai for Marketplace.

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