The sun began to peek through the clouds on an overcast morning at the Florida House Institute
, where solar advocates gathered in early January to launch a new solar energy co-op program in Sarasota County.
Representatives from the Sarasota League of Women Voters
, Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN
), and the Florida House Institute met with Sarasota County homeowners to explore ways to add solar energy to their homes at a discount by sharing solar panel purchasing power -- and knowledge -- in bulk.
Solar co-ops is a competitive bidding process to select a single company to install solar panels in participating homes, providing a discount of up to 20 percent for homeowners who participate in the program. Each person signs his or her own contract with the installer, and the entire group not only receives the discount, but also benefits from sharing knowledge about the process of transitioning to a solar-powered lifestyle.
Jon Thaxton, Senior VP for Community Investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation
, a FL SUN Sarasota partner, cites a report the GCCF issued on affordable housing in 2015. The housing report states that over 43,000 households in Sarasota County pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing--forcing them to make difficult decisions as to how they will afford food, transportation and childcare, Thaxton notes.
"This initiative has promised to reduce the energy cost in these households, and thus reduce the financial strain on the budget on these service workers," Thaxton says, citing low income neighborhoods in Sarasota Springs, south Venice, Englewood and North Port.
"We are talking about, in terms of affordable housing, bringing not only hundreds, but thousands of these 43,000 cash-strapped households into a more sustainable situation with this initiative," Thaxton says.
Phyllis Vogel, President of the Sarasota League of Women Voters, says that Florida currently lags behind other states in utilizing solar energy, and that programs like the FL SUN Sarasota co-op
are critical to the Sunshine State's future.
"Consider this: Florida, the Sunshine State, currently gets less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its energy from solar power," Vogel says.
But recent public interest in solar energy is a catalyst for change.
"The defeat of Amendment One in the recent election is an indication that Floridians are ready to increase the use of solar power in our communities. We know it's cost effective, it's good for our local economy, and it's necessary for our future resilience as a coastal community," Vogel says.
Of the solar co-op initiative, Vogel states, "not only will it save homeowners and businesses money, but it will infuse our economy with a growth industry of well-paying green jobs. The League believes that solar energy takes a free market approach to putting power, literally and figuratively, into the hands of the people."
FL SUN Sarasota partners include The League of Women Voters, the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, Sierra Club of Manatee-Sarasota
, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation
, the Florida House Institute, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota
, and FL SUN.
To learn more about the co-op, Join FL Sun Sarasota
for one of three upcoming information sessions:
Jan. 18, 1 p.m.
Venice Community Center
326 South Nokomis Avenue, Venice
Jan. 19, 5 p.m.
1331 1st Street, Sarasota
Feb. 24, 11 a.m.
Twin Lakes Park
6700 Clark Road, Sarasota