Solar United Neighbors’ Upper Keys Solar Co-op now has the 30 members needed to send out a request for proposals to solar panel installers.

With the request for proposals going out, the coop will now begin notifying its members of openings on its selection committee. Members of the selection committee are tasked with reviewing installer bids, identifying any criteria for installations, making recommendations, and ultimately choosing a company to complete the installations. Solar coop members then have the option to purchase the panels based on the installer’s group rate.

Solar United Neighbors will teach members about de-centralized energy, explaining how it works, and educating consumers on solar economics. The organization also provides information on topics like roof warranties, pricing estimates, staffing capabilities, and will coordinate with the installer once chosen, said Monroe County co-op coordinator Jody Finvar.

“We take the bids, lay them out, and compare everything ‘apples to apples’ to help the cooperative make the best decision for their solar needs,” she said.

The Upper Keys Solar Co-op is for homeowners from the Long Key Bridge north. It is free to join, and joining the coop is not a commitment to install a solar system. Homeowners can still sign up through May 8. The next information session is scheduled for Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Islamorada Public Library.

According to Finvar, the determining factors for solar are size of roof and orientation toward the sun, the size of your electric bill, and the size of your budget.

“We talk about the cooperative process, what it means to be part of the co-op, how long the process takes in general, how we solicit request for proposals, and the role the organization plays,” said Finvar.

The average size of a residential system is 7.6 kilowatts. A solar system is conservatively estimated to last 25 years, as most panels lose efficiency by half a percent a year, said Finvar. Homeowners can expect a system to pay for itself in six to seven years. The return on investment for homeowners is usually 12 percent to 15 percent, with the higher end of return coming to those who also own electric cars, said Finvar.

Some larger solar systems require liability insurance. Solar co-op members should inquire with local utility companies about interconnection agreements and requirements.

Since 2015, Solar United Neighbors has educated 6,000 Floridians on solar and has installed solar systems on more 760 homes. To sign up for the Upper Keys Solar Co-op visit solarunitedneighbors.org/upperkeys.

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