Local program promotes solar literacy through free informational sessions


Photo Courtesy of Andy Robinson

Andy Robinson, MREA presenter, at Common Ground.

By Therese Pokorney, Staff Writer

The grassroots program, Solar Urbana-Champaign 3.0, is continuing its third year of integrating community education and volume purchasing of solar installations.

The program offers free informational Solar Power Hour sessions led by Andy Robinson, educator hired by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to facilitate the sessions. Robinson teaches residents of Piatt and Champaign Counties about the basics of solar, about how volume purchasing works and about its financial implications for a household.

Afterward, attendees may receive a free, no-obligation site assessment from Solar Urbana-Champaign 3.0 and have until Sept. 30 to decide whether to become solar through the program. The program is sponsored by the MREA, the city of Urbana and Prairie Rivers Network.

“I think most people come to the sessions thinking solar is really expensive like it was in the past,” Robinson said. “Prices dropped for solar materials, so we’re teaching people that solar can be financially viable.”

Robinson will host 19 programs from May 16 to Sept. 12 to spread awareness about the economic and environmental benefits of solar panels. Since the company’s inception in 2016, the program has led to the installation of over 1 megawatt of solar, which is enough to power about 1,000 homes, across 138 properties in Champaign County. Robinson said the number of volume purchases of solar installations is expected to increase.

“This group program helps to lower prices for the materials by offering volume purchasing,” Robinson said. “It helps to make a simpler process for homeowners and business owners to see how financially viable it is, how much energy it saves and the amazing environmental benefits of it.”`

Installing solar panels saves a lot more than just money. Robinson said the environmental benefits of one house putting up solar is equivalent to taking 34 cars off the road. Becoming educated about renewable resources and energy efficiency is easy and through the program, can help clean Illinois’ air, he said.

This year, the program’s meetings will introduce Community Solar Arrays for those whose properties are not suitable for solar, which will be available in the near future, according to the organization’s press release.

Peter Murphy, solar manager at MREA, said the demand for solar is increasing due to the easy access to programs like Solar Urbana-Champaign 3.0.

“Solar’s popularity is growing because the price has come down so much in the last 10 years and the new incentives made possible by the Future Energy Jobs Act make solar a more attractive investment than ever and available to more people,” Murphy said. “Where in the past solar was only available to property owners, the new legislation makes it possible for renters to go solar too, which is huge.”

Murphy said after the programs last informational session in September, the number of people wanting to add solar to their properties is expected to rise dramatically.

The process of the U.S. transitioning to more and more renewable energy is akin to the process of electrification a century ago,” Murphy said. “This is a huge and incredibly important movement.”

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