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Solar Co-Ops Expand Solar Access In Western PA

Amy Sisk
StateImpact Pennsylvania
Cambria County residents Janice Eastbourn-Bloom and Rick Bloom installed solar panels on their barn rooftop in 2011.

While the bulk of solar energy in Pennsylvania exists in the eastern half of the state, co-ops are popping up across western part of the commonwealth to help people go solar.

The groups started earlier this year in Allegheny and Cambria counties and the Upper Ohio Valley. The organization Solar United Neighbors helped launch them in several other states before coming to Pennsylvania. By banding together as co-ops to solicit bids from solar installers, participants often get a better price than if they had gone through the process alone.

“Western Pennsylvania is a challenging place to talk about solar and expand solar access, and that’s the big reason why we’re here doing this,” said Henry McKay, state program director for Solar United Neighbors.

Several of the co-ops have formed in places with a long history of fossil fuel extraction. The newest one in Indiana County — a longtime coal producing area — drew 70 people to its first meeting. McKay said that was the biggest turnout so far, and it happened in a county with little existing solar energy.

“There is a lot of latent interest out there where there’s interest in it, there’s excitement about it, but no one is coming to say, ‘Hey, here’s how we can bring more solar to our community,’” he said.

The co-ops seek to fill that void. And they come to Pennsylvania at a time when the state’s looking to bolster solar energy. This fall, the state released a blueprint to make 10 percent of its electricity generation come from solar energy by 2030. The plan calls for more rooftop solar panels, as well as utility-scale solar farms to send renewable energy into the grid.

Since Solar United Neighbors launched, more co-ops have formed in Indiana, Crawford and Mercer counties, and the earlier ones have already selected installers for their regions. McKay said he hopes to start additional co-ops in 2019, possibly in Butler and Beaver counties and another in Allegheny County.

This story was produced in partership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, the Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy.

Amy Sisk covers energy for WESA and StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media collaboration focused on energy.