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Going Solar In Pittsburgh: They Did It, Can You?

Residents and hobbyists are invited to see some 20 homes and businesses harnessing solar power in the area as part of Saturday's 5th Annual Pittsburgh Solar Tour.

“People can go to places within their neighborhood or maybe take a little bit of a trip farther out to see the solar installations that are throughout the region,” said Lauren Fraley, director of communications at Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, or PennFuture, the event’s organizer.

Sharon Pillar, project director of Solarize Allegheny, said they know of approximately 230 solar-powered homes and businesses in Allegheny County. Stops on the self-guided tour include sites in Canonsburg, North Hills, Monroeville and within the city of Pittsburgh. 

Volunteers and representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations will be located at each stop from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, including Pittsburgh Green Innovators, the Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania and SmartPower’sSolarize Allegheny campaign. Each will give "a little bit more information on each of the stops and show the solar installations and even explain why they chose to go solar,” Fraley said.

The Kingsley Association will host the “Solar Soiree,” an after party designed to give tour participants and solar veterans a chance to talk about the importance of alternative energy.

But is solar energy a feasible option for the average homeowner?

“Absolutely,” said Fraley.

Renewable energy, including solar power, is approaching grid parity with conventional sources of energy, where it will produce electricity for the same cost to rate-payers as traditional technologies available on a utility’s transmission and distribution grid, according to the Renewable Energy Advisors website.

Fraley encouraged tour participants to ask lots of questions about upfront cost vs. long-term payback from homeowners currently using solar power.

“The tour is going to show participants that large or small, solar is a viable option for people to make an investment in their home, in their community, in the environment and eventually save money,” she said.

The average installation cost of going solar for a 5 kilowatt system is about $20,000 before the 30 percent tax credit or $14,000 afterwards, according to Pillar. The cost varies depending on the size of the system, she said.