A $30,000 grant from Gulf Coast Community Foundation will enable Solar United Neighbors (SUN) to expand clean, sustainable energy in Sarasota County. SUN will use the grant to launch two new residential solar co-ops, which help neighbors affordably install quality rooftop solar-energy systems at a group rate. The funding also will allow SUN to expand its youth education and community outreach programs, work with local governments to reduce barriers to going solar, and assist more businesses interested in converting to solar energy.
Meeting local demand
SUN is a national organization dedicated to representing the needs and interests of solar owners and supporters, with a presence in 11 states plus the District of Columbia.
Since 2016, when an earlier Gulf Coast grant helped SUN ramp up its operations in the Sunshine State, the organization’s network of neighborhood-based co-ops across Florida has grown from two to 56. That includes two completed co-ops in Sarasota County, which together saw 100 households go solar with a total investment of more than $1.98 million in their new systems. Those systems will collectively save homeowners an estimated $3.4 million in energy costs versus buying retail electricity over their 25-year lifespans.
“Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s longtime support has been instrumental in the success of our solar co-ops,” said Angela DeMonbreun, regional field director for Solar United Neighbors. “They have provided us with cost and learning benefits that wouldn’t otherwise be available. There’s still a great demand for solar co-ops in the Sarasota area, and this grant will enable us to continue meeting it.”
SUN’s two new Sarasota County co-ops each will have room for as many as 200 members. DeMonbreun’s team is eyeing September for the start of a three-month sign-up period for the first co-op. Prior to that, local representatives will enlist community partners and volunteers during July and August.
DeMonbreun says the organization has adapted its outreach in response to COVID-19, with more virtual volunteer trainings and information sessions planned. SUN is also working with installers on behalf of co-op members to ensure that safety protocols are followed. “When it comes to going solar, you can get pretty far in the process from the comfort and safety of home,” she said. “And with the proven financial benefits of going solar, plus the scheduled loss of the solar investment tax credit for residential projects in 2022, now might be an especially attractive time for households to invest in solar energy.”
Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s support of SUN complements other foundation projects focused on sustainability and environmental conservation. The Partners for Green Places initiative, in which Gulf Coast is a founding investor, recently announced over $160,000 in grants to help 10 local nonprofits improve their energy efficiency so they can direct more dollars to their programs. Gulf Coast is also completing work on a community “playbook” with actionable recommendations for restoring and improving environmental water quality in Sarasota County.
“We love the way Solar United Neighbors has scaled its co-op model across our state,” said Mark Pritchett, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. “Responding to climate change and improving environmental quality are two important priorities for our region, and SUN is empowering residents to address them at the individual and community levels.”
To contact SUN’s Florida team, go here.