SOLARIZE USA: The Paradigm Shift

By Ron “Mac” McDowell

Santa Barbara Goes Solar!

The headline read …  “The Community Environmental Council counts Solarize Santa Barbara a Success! ”

I’ve been writing about solarizing neighborhoods for awhile now, but with a Pacific Northwest slant because that’s where I live and work.  I moved to Portland Oregon twenty years ago after living in Santa Barbara California for nearly half my life. [This is when most people just shake their head at me.]  I’ve never looked back, but I still have love for my old hometown.  Therefore, I’m quite proud that SB has taken a page out of Portland’s sustainability book and completed their first residential solarize campaign, quite successfully too, I might add.

The Community Environment Council (CEC) of Santa Barbara sponsored this program and it was expertly managed by Megan Birney, who is the renewable energy specialist for the organization.

She told me, “As I’m sure you can tell, we have borrowed quite a bit from the Solarize Portland and Solarize Salem projects.  The people in Portland and Salem that we have spoken with have been extremely helpful in getting this program up and running.  I honestly don’t know if we could have done it without them.”

Here’s the synopsis …

Solarize Santa Barbara\
Campaign Started:        May 2011
Sponsored by:               Community Environmental Council (Non-profit)
Coordinator:                 Megan Birney
Chosen Contractor:     REC Solar & Sun Pacific Solar Electric
Participation:               187 sign-ups         75 workshop attendees
Contracts signed:        49
Total or projected installed:   205 kW
(Note: 4 contracts are on hold, if they move forward the total will be 220 kW)

[Note: For your reference, I’ve posted below the results of a number of residential solarize program/projects, many I am personally involved or familiar with so I validated the numbers.  Judge for yourself whether or not these programs do as advertised or are worth the effort.]

Has Solarizing Gone Viral?

The first Portland campaign, Solarize Southeast Portland (2009), was sparked by a homeowner who wanted to install solar power and partnered with Tim O’Neal (SE Uplift) and Lizzie Rubado (Energy Trust of Oregon) to create a neighborhood group purchase program.  They borrowed from 1BOG, put a Portland spin on it, and the program received lots of media attention (Solarize SE in USA Today) as it was seen as innovative and a potential market game-changer.  Over this past year, many individuals who participated in a Solarize Portland program have traveled to national conferences to present and explain this successful model to others.

The Northwest cities that adopted this same model, like Beaverton, Salem, and Seattle all got press and accolades for their own successes too, but my favorite coverage was for Solarize Pendleton which had their story told in an Associated Press article that was picked up and broadly published in the New York Times, CBS News, Huffington Post, and scores of other outlets.

And, as recently as last week the Huffington Post Green section published an article entitled, “Group Buying the New Thing in Residential Solar – And Beyond?” By Lewis Milford and Anne Margolis of Clean Energy Group  It is a good article on the subject and I’ll leave it up to you to read, but I do want to call attention to this quote:

“The [Solarize Portland] model is potentially replicable by communities across the U.S., and is particularly important to study in light of declining state incentives and challenges to the PACE residential financing program … Since then, several other “Solarize” -type programs have popped up all over the U.S. (and beyond), in cities, states, and utility territories, and, based on their apparent success, these programs may be just the ticket to keep up the solar energy momentum in these times of diminishing state and federal incentives.”

Then it goes on to ask, “So what is so great about the Solarize model?” and provides the appropriate answers.

Yeah, we get the headlines and deservedly so. I think we’ve proven this model will stimulate and create demand, while promoting awareness and educating residents, but now we’ll see if it is sustainable.

One tool that will certainly help keep the solarize momentum going is …

The Solarize Guidebook: A community guide to collective purchasing of residential PV systems

Authored by Linda Irvine, Alex Sawyer and Jennifer Grove of NW SEED (Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development ) and sponsored & funded by DOE/NREL’s Solar America Communities program,  The Solarize Guidebook describes key elements of the Solarize campaigns in Portland, and offers several program refinements from projects beyond Portland.

Contributors include: Lee Rahr, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability; Lizzie Rubado, Energy Trust of Oregon; Ross Swartzendruber, Salem Creative Network; Lee Jorgenson, Solarize Pendleton; Jessie Denver, City of San Jose; and Dave Llorens, 1BOG.

The guidebook provides lessons, considerations, and step-by-step plans for project organizers to replicate the success of solarizing. If you’re considering doing something similar for your community, you owe it to yourself to do the homework and this book is it. [Including reading of course !]

Solarizing:  Results and Comparisons (These are the campaigns I know about – there are others, no doubt!)

Solarize SE Portland (2 campaigns)
Campaign Started:    1 – 2009                            2 – 2010
Sponsored by:  SE Uplift & Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association
Coordinator:     Tim O’Neal, Jonathan Cohen
Chosen Contractor:   Imagine Energy
Participation:   1 – 350 sign-ups      2 – 300
Contracts signed:    1 – 130               2 – 109
Total or projected installed:  1 – 350 kW       2 – 358 kW

Solarize NE Portland
Campaign Started:   January 2010
Sponsored by:  Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN)
Coordinators:   David Sweet, Kelly Rogers
Chosen Contractor:  Solar City
Participation:   1000 sign-ups
Contracts signed:   204
Total or projected installed:  549 kW

Solarize SW Portland
Campaign Started:   April 2010
Sponsored by: Southwest Neighborhood  Inc.
Coordinators:   Todd Farris, Leonard Gard, Ron McDowell
Chosen Contractor:   Mr. Sun Solar
Participation:         700 sign-ups        300+ workshops
Contracts signed:  168
Total or projected installed:  480 kW

Solarize North Portland
Campaign Started:  January 2011
Sponsored by:      North Portland Neighborhood Services and Neighbors West-Northwest
Coordinator:         Mary Kelly, Carrie Richards Andrews
Chosen Contractor:  Imagine Energy
Participation:             200 sign-ups    150-175 site assessments
Contracts signed:        32 (+15 more possible)
Total or projected installed:  Estimate = 100 kW

Solarize NW Portland
Campaign Started:   February 2011
Sponsored by:   Neighbors West-Northwest and North Portland Neighborhood Services
Coordinator:   Alison Wallisch
Chosen Contractor:  Mr. Sun Solar
Participation:    157 sign-ups         110 site assessments
Contracts signed:   26    (plus 1 SHW & 3 solar pool heating)
Total or projected installed:   74.6 kW

Solar Beaverton
Campaign Started:  March 2011
Sponsored by:   City of Beaverton (Community driven)
Project Coordinator:  Rebecca Fitzsimmons
Chosen Contractor: Livelight Energy (2009 = SolarCity)
Participation:   580 sign-ups      (2009 pilot = 400 sign-ups)
Contracts signed:  75                    (2009 pilot = 50)
Total or projected installed:  225 kW     (2009 pilot = 150 kW)

Solarize Corbett
Campaign Started:  July 2011
Sponsored by:      Resident-driven
Coordinator:         Cecelia Giese, David Rossman, Michael Guebert
Chosen Contractor:  Mr. Sun Solar
Participation:            69 initial sign-ups
Contracts signed:    TBA
Total or projected installed:  TBA

Solarize Eugene
Campaign Started:  June 2011
Sponsored by:      Energy Design  (Contractor driven)
Coordinator:         Vince McClellan
Contractor:           Energy Design
Participation:        Lowest pricing via group buy in Pacific NW = $4.95-$5.05/W installed
Contracts signed:  Unknown
Total or projected installed: Unknown

Solarize Massachusetts  (Involves 4 cities)
Campaign Started:  April 2011
Sponsored by:  Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in partnership with Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Dept of Energy Resources
Coordinator:     Jake Lambert
Chosen Contractor(s):  New England Breeze Solar (Harvard), Alteris Renewables (Hatfield & Winchester), Munro Distributing Clean Energy & Electrical Solutions (Scituate)
Participation:                        TBA
Contracts signed:                 TBA
Total or projected installed:  TBA

Solarize  Minneapolis – Make Mine Solar H2O: Solar Hot Water
Campaign Started:  August 2010
Sponsored by:         Minnesota Renewable Energy Society  (non-profit ASES chapter)
Coordinator:            Laura Cina
Chosen Contractor:   Customer chooses from an approved list
Participation:          150 workshop attendees,  216 sign-ups
Contracts signed:   14
Total or projected installed:  TBA

Nike Solar Initiative project
Campaign Started:  March 2011
Sponsored by:  Nike Corporation (Workplace participants)
Coordinator:  Larry Lowery
Chosen Contractor:   Northwest Solar Solutions
Participation:   116 sign-ups
Contracts signed:    Estimated = 25
Total or projected installed:  Estimated = 80 kW

Solarize Pendleton  (Note: 2nd campaign started March 2011)
Campaign Started:   April 2010
Sponsored by:      City of Pendleton (Community driven)
Coordinator:         Lee Jorgensen, Larry Lehman, Lindsey Hardy
Chosen Contractor:  LiveLight Energy
Participation:     Workshops were full
Contracts signed:   56
Total or projected installed:  135 kW

Solarize Salem
Campaign Started:   August 2010      (Note: 2nd campaign started May 2011)
Sponsored by:   Salem Creative Network (Co-op)
Coordinator:      Ross Swartzendruber
Chosen Contractor:  Solar City and RS Energy.
Participation:   Fee-based service for co-op
Contracts signed:   52
Total or projected installed:  165 kW

San Jose Credit Union / SJ Employee buy program
Sporsored by:   San Jose Credit Union, SunPower, City of San Jose
Coordinator:   Jessie Denver
Participants:   130 sign-ups
Contracts Signed:    40 (35 PV, 5 thermal)
Total or projected installed:  140 kW

Solarize Seattle – Solarize Queen Anne
Campaign Started:  July 2010
Sponsored by: Northwest Sustainable for Economic Development (NW SEED)
Coordinator:         Linda Irvine, Alex Sawyer
Chosen Contractor:  Sunergy Systems
Participation:        160 sign-ups     150+ workshop attendees     96 Assessments
Contracts signed:   30
Total or projected installed:   130 kW

Solarize Seattle – Solarize Magnolia

Campaign Started:  July 2011
Sponsored by:  NW SEED
Coordinator:    Alex Sawyer


Residential Solarize Campaigns Sponsored by …

Non-Profit Organization:    Community Environmental Council (Santa Barbara), Salem Creative Network, Northwest Sustainable for Economic Development – NW SEED (Seattle)

Community Based:   City of Portland, City of Pendleton, City of Minneapolis, City of Madison, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center

Employer Sponsored:  Columbia Sportswear, Nike Corporation, San Jose City employees

Associations:   San Jose Credit Union, Forrest Heights HOA (Portland), Creekside HOA (Salem)

Publicly-owned Utility:   City of Santa Clara’s electric utility – Silicon Valley Power

Contractor Driven:   SolarCity (multiple cities), REC (multiple cities), Gulf South Solar – 1 Solar Block Group Buying Program (Baton Rouge),  Energy Design (Eugene), Spearhead Solar (Davis), Imagine Energy (SE Portland 2nd campaign)

For Profit/Business:  1Block Off the Grid, Group Energy, Open Neighborhoods Community Solar,  Clean Energy Logistics Lab – CELL (Gainesville)

* About Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council

Since 1970, the CEC has led the Santa Barbara region – and at times California and the nation – in creative solutions to some of the toughest environmental problems.  Today CEC is focused on eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the Central Coast region in one generation – Fossil Free by ’33.

Find the CEC on the web at  on Twitter @CECSB and on Facebook at

Read full story…

Appeared in SOLARFLAREBLOG on September 1, 2011.

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