Solarize Cedar Rapids - Linn County: A Solar Group Buy

State: IA Type: Promising Practice Year: 2018

SOLAR GROUP BUY Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County, Iowa BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF LHD LOCATION, DEMOGRAPHICS OF POPULATION SERVED Linn County is located in east-central Iowa and contains 726 square miles of land with 18 incorporated communities and 11 villages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 219,916 people living in Linn County in 2015 accounting for 7.0% of Iowa's total population, making it the second most populous county in Iowa. DESCRIBE PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE U.S. Greenhouse Gas emissions in 2015 were 6,587 Million Metric Tons, 30% emitted by the electricity generation sector. Iowa's gross GHG emissions in 2015 were 29.8 Million Metric Tons CO2e with electricity generation being the largest contributor. [EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program]. Climate change has serious health implications for present and future generations. The health effects of climate change are myriad and may include the following: heat-related health effects; extreme weather-related health effects; air pollution-related health effects; shifting distributions of disease vectors and diseases; health problems associated with food and water supply disruption and contamination; health problems associated with allergens; and health problems associated with social and economic disruption. Local health departments play a vital role in helping communities prepare for and address the health effects of climate change [Are We Ready? (Report 2) Preparing for the public health challenges of climate change, NACCHO, 2012]. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROPOSED PRACTICE The Solar Group Buy is a practice for local homeowners to work together to purchase and install solar power as a community. The public is attracted to purchase through a group because it lowers costs through the power of volume purchasing. The more homeowners that participate, the lower the cost will be for everyone, and the more solar power will be installed. The projected benefits include reduction in CO2e emissions, water consumption, and lowering homeowner lifetime costs for electricity by displacing fossil fuel fired electric generation with green affordable solar power. The Solar Group Buy enables the installation of solar photovoltaic systems on homes at a per-watt price lower than that typically offered by the solar installation firm. The solar installation also accesses cost efficiencies through a program that combines lowered customer acquisition costs with group purchasing and installations. Education and customer development is performed early in the process, which saves the installer time and money. Finally, a strong focus on building a market in a concentrated geographical area over a relatively short period of time can build a market for years to come. HOW WAS THE PRACTICE IMPLEMENTED? The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), Linn County Public Health (LCPH), City of Cedar Rapids, and a consortium of local partners including The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, and Iowa 350 kicked-off Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County.” Over the summer of 2017, 103 homeowners in Linn County took advantage of discounted solar pricing through a limited-time solar group purchase program. An RFP for a solar photovoltaic vendor was solicited in May 2017. Proposals were evaluated for technical qualifications, contracting terms and conditions, work quality, customer references, and unit price. Moxie Solar was selected as the Solar Group Buy vendor and participated with the local partners in all outreach activities, program partner meetings, and Solar Power Hours. Twenty-three Solar Power Hours” were held educating homeowners on the benefits of solar energy. MREA provided education materials including a formally trained presenter on the financial, technical, and social aspects of solar power. All program partners actively promoted the event through several strategies including social media, newsletters, neighborhood associations, poster distribution, and press releases. Media engagement led to numerous interviews resulting in seven major newspaper articles and television reports. The program partners met weekly to evaluate program activities including Solar Power Hours, media engagement, and updating of the program measures. RESULTS/OUTCOMES The project goal was to install 350 kW of solar power (approximately 50 residential installations). We easily surpassed this goal with 103 residents installing 605 kW of solar production capacity. Annual air pollutant emissions reductions were calculated. CO2 = 760 tons SO2 = 1710 lbs NOX = 1230 lbs PM2.5 = 60 lbs In additional, traditional fossil fuel fired electric generation is water intensive. Through the adoption of solar power, it is estimated that over 14 million gallons of annual water usage is avoided. Homeowners will also realize a collective annual saving of more than $103,000 in utility costs. After federal and state tax rebates, the average payback on the investment is 8 years. The program website is
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM/PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in 2015 were 6,587 Million Metric Tons CO2e, 30% of which was emitted by electricity generation sector. [EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program]. The nature of climate-related risks, such as those posed by extreme weather events and conditions, means that some adverse health outcomes are unlikely to be avoidable, even with efforts to improve population resilience. For this reason, members of the public health community recognize that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the effectiveness of the public health system are essential to protect people and prevent climate-related illness and death. [Are We Ready? Preparing for the public health challenges of climate change, NACCHO, Environmental Defense Fund, and George Mason University, 2008] According to the CDC, Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge. In the U.S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.” Detailed information on health effects can be obtained from the Third National Climate Assessment's Health Chapter, as referenced on the CDC website for Climate Effects on Health WHAT TARGET POPULATION IS AFFECTED BY PROBLEM (PLEASE INCLUDE RELEVANT DEMOGRAPHICS). Effects of climate change on health are global. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location. The Solar Group Buy specifically targets reduction in fossil fuel fired electric generation. Offsetting fossil fuel fired electric generation with solar power has additional air quality benefits including reduction in Criteria Pollutants such as NOX, SO2, and PM2.5 as well as other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) most notably mercury. Iowa Power & Light (IPL) does operate one coal and natural gas fired electric generation facility in Linn County. Any reductions associated from the IPL power plant would have a direct impact on the local population. WHAT IS THE TARGET POPULATION SIZE? To be available for federal and state tax incentives, the program targeted owner-occupied housing. According to the US Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2016, there are 96,271 housing units, 73.5% (70,759) of which are owner-occupied. WHAT PERCENTAGE DID YOU REACH? While the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County reached a nominal percentage of households (0.15%), it should be recognized that solar energy is an emerging market requiring a significant financial investment by homeowners. A total investment of $1.5 million in residential solar power was made by homeowners as a result of the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County program. Of the 454 households represented at the Solar Power Hours, 103 households installed solar photovoltaic or a lead conversion rate of 23%. According the U.S. Solar Market Insight, a quarterly industry publication of Wood Mackenzie, Limited, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Q3 2017 marks the third consecutive quarter in which the residential sector experienced year-over-year decline in deployments, primarily driven by continued weakness in established state markets such as California. Iowa, however, has shown an increase in adoption of solar. In 2015, Iowa ranked 33rd and in 2016 ranked 35th. In the third quarter of 2017, the quarter in which Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County ran, Iowa jumped to 23rd. Unfortunately, LCPH does not have access to the raw data to determine the contribution of Linn County to this jump. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE IN THE PAST TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM? Linn County has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability and environmental protection through efforts such as including high energy efficiency standards in construction projects and including the promotion of personal health and environmental protection in the Linn County Strategic Plan. On July 27, 2017, the Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution supporting the objectives of the Paris Agreement and approved Linn County's registration in the We Are Still In” Coalition. More examples of sustainable efforts implemented by Linn County departments are available on Linn County's website ( and include: Participation in the US DOE SolSmart Program, participation in the Iowa Economic Development Authorities Solar Readiness Initiative, Inclusion of Alternative and Renewable Energy in the Linn County Comprehensive Land Use Plan. LEED design of several new public buildings, a variety of energy efficiency project, including installation of geothermal heating. In 2012 Linn County was designated as a Small Wind Innovation Zone by the Iowa Utilities Board. Purchasing Energy Star equipment for Linn County government. WHY IS THE CURRENT/PROPOSED PRACTICE BETTER? Group Buys are important tools for scaling solar deployment in a market in a short period of time. When done correctly, they can be beneficial to everyone involved, including residents, businesses, local organizations, and jurisdictions. Group buys work by aggregating demand for solar, usually in a small geographic area, achieving economies of scale. They lower the solar installers' soft costs” further by providing up-front customer education en masse, leading to a higher-than-average conversion rate for solar leads. Home and business owners see lower prices for their solar array, and communities move toward achieving their sustainability goals. IS CURRENT PRACTICE INNOVATIVE? HOW SO/EXPLAIN? Solarize is a community based program that leverages social interaction to promote the adoption of solar through a group pricing scheme. Solarize campaigns are designed to leverage peers and social networks to spur solar adoption. Dozens of solar group buys have been completed across the country in cities like Portland, Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago, and in states from California to Vermont. Among all of them, there has been common elements that led to success: competitive contractor selection, community-led outreach with a trusted community partner, and a limited-time offering. IS IT NEW TO THE FIELD OF PUBLIC HEALTH? Yes. Although the Solarize process has been used by municipal planners for several years now, this is the first time that Public Health has been an integral partner. IS THE CURRENT PRACTICE EVIDENCE-BASED? If yes, provide references (Examples of evidence-based guidelines include the Guide to Community Preventive Services, MMWR Recommendations and Reports, National Guideline Clearinghouses, and the USPSTF Recommendations.) The earliest identified peer reviewed publication on a Solar Group Buy” is the article, Networked Urban Climate Governance: Neighborhood-Scale Residential Solar Energy Systems and the Example of Solarize Portland,” by Alex Aylett, first published in Environment and Planning Vol 31, Issue 5, pp. 858-875, January 2013. The article focuses on a qualitative case study of Solarize Portland, a community-managed solar energy program that has transformed the local and regional market for solar energy in Portland, OR.” Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, a multidisciplinary set of partners, including Yale University, came together to examine the uptake of solar through the Solarize CT program. They sought answers to questions such as: What motivates people to install rooftop solar panels? Which incentives can rapidly boost the adoption of this technology? Which programs are persistently effective, and which are most easily scaled? Out of this collaboration, Yale published, Solarize Your Community: An Evidence-Based Guide for Accelerating the Adoption of Residential Solar” for community and business leaders, active citizens and policymakers detailing the most effective strategies for accelerating the adoption of residential solar. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) provided the technical expertise on the Linn County Solar Group Buy process. MREA was established in 1990 with the mission of promoting renewable energy through education and demonstration. MREA has found over the years that delivering information is not as effective as delivering actionable information. Their programs include incentives like discounts that are tied to deadlines, so a greater proportion of the target audience decides that now is the time to take action. In a survey of group buy participants in three markets in Wisconsin and Illinois, the following feedback from program participants was received: 73% said it was important or extremely important that the group buy program is managed by an independent, nonprofit organization (i.e. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association). 80% said it was important or extremely important that the group buy program has the support of a municipality. 75% said it was important or extremely important that the information provided at the Solar Power Hour is developed by an independent, non-profit organization. 78% said they found the Solar Power hour informative or extremely informative. 92.5% said they knew more about issues relating to solar as a result of the program. 88.1% said they are more likely to pay attention to energy policy issues in their state because of their participation in the solar group buy program. 80.6% said they are now more aware of solar resources and tools available to them. When asked how likely they were to install solar without the group buy, 45% said not likely 20% said likely The following are just a few of the past successes throughout the Midwest that MREA had with these types of programs. They offered several programs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Urbana, IL: In 2016, MREA led a county-wide group buy totaling 605 kW installed on 81 homes and small businesses over 6 months. Over 430 individuals learned about solar at 24 Solar Power Hours. All told, over 140 homes and businesses received custom solar site assessments in the program. Out of this group, 81 participants signed a contract to go solar, for an aggregate total greater than $65,600 in savings on energy costs in year one, offsetting over 1 million lbs of CO2 in that same time frame. Milwaukee, WI: A partnership with the City of Milwaukee's Environmental Collaboration Office and Milwaukee Shines program has involved recurring neighborhood-based group buys totaling 599 kW installed and counting. The program has led to over 164 installations on homes and small businesses since 2013. Over 700 individuals have been reached with solar education in the Milwaukee Metropolitan area. Chippewa Valley, WI: 196 individuals received information about solar through seven Solar Power Hours in the Autumn of 2016. Thirty-one installations added 185 kW installed on local homes and businesses in the Eau Claire, WI area. MREA collaborated with Chippewa Valley Affordable Solar, a group of citizens from the Chippewa Valley who are advocates for promoting solar energy. Bloomington-Normal, IL: By working closely with the Normal, IL based Ecology Action Center, the Solar Bloomington-Normal program reached 242 individuals with Solar Power Hours, leading to 425 kW of solar added on 29 properties, including two commercial installations sized at 75 kW and 124 kW. Minnesota Power Pack: Regional incentive program totaling 103 kW installed and counting, which totaled 13 installations for homeowners. Over 1,100 people reached state wide via 35 information sessions.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF PRACTICE The goals and objectives of the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County is to provide local residents with information about solar photovoltaics (PV) and increase market penetration of rooftop residential solar PV through group purchasing program. By promoting the use of renewable fuels within our community, Linn County will see a decrease in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions from the local electrical utility. The program offers several 1-hour-long Solar Power Hours meetings around the community. These meetings provide education about solar photovoltaic basics, including how to determine if a site is ready for solar, how the installation process works, financial considerations, and how homeowners can participate in the program. By educating homeowners about solar basics, participants are more informed, saving the installer time and money. During the Solar Power Hours, homeowners were able to sign up to receive a free solar assessment. The Solarize program offers competitive pricing using the power of volume purchasing. The more people that participate, the lower the cost is for the service providers (solar installer) and program participants. The competitive bidding process ensures the program achieves a price per watt lower than an individual homeowner would generally not be able to get on the market. WHAT DID YOU DO TO ACHIEVE THE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES? The following is an outline of Phase I and Phase II activities to complete during the project duration: Phase I activities: 6-8 weeks 1. Convene program partners 2. Establish roles for program partners 3. Convene Advisory Committee 4. Establish RFP requirements if different from template (union-made components, etc.) 5. Issue RFP to relevant industry networks and review submitted proposals with Advisory Committee 6. Select solar installer, begin regular meetings with local team + installer 7. Identify target demographics, groups, organizations (farmers, business owners, residents of certain neighborhoods, members of certain organizations) 8. Identify local Solar Power Hour facilitator 9. Schedule 7-20 outreach sessions (Solar Power Hours) at key locations 10. Make contact with promotional partners and establish expectations, trades, partnerships 11. Create logo, branding, website, posters, hand-outs, sign up forms, tracking spreadsheets 12. Create Solar Power Hour presentation 13. Convene volunteer street team to identify key locations and distribute promotional materials Phase II activities: 16-20 weeks 1. Issue press release announcing the program 2. Facilitate 7-20 Solar Power Hours 3. Track sign-ups, site assessments, proposals, and signed contracts 4. Respond to questions/concerns from participants 5. Communicate progress with participants regularly 6. Implement Continuous promotion strategy 7. Optimize sign-up to contact timeline, including site assessments and proposals 8. Install solar on local properties An important first step to achieving the program goals and objectives was to assemble a team of passionate community partners to participate on the program advisory committee. These partners offered time and energy to discuss implementation details and promote the Solarize program throughout Linn County. The committee included a representative(s) from the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa 350, Indian Creek Nature Center, the Nature Conservancy Iowa, a private citizen, and Linn County Public Health. MREA provided a project coordinator who led meetings, created and paid for flyers/handouts/sign-in sheets, developed Solar Power Hour presentation along with committee input, kept meeting notes, and provided the necessary data tracking tools and spreadsheets to record information as it became available. A representative from the solar installer was added to the advisory committee once the program contract was awarded. A RFP was posted on MREA website and emailed to over 420 businesses. The advisory committee systematically reviewed each application and met via conference call to discuss and rank each application. When deciding which the solar installer to award the contract to, careful consideration was given to the installer's ability to provide quality service while meeting the program guidelines and deadlines. Twenty-three Solar Power Hour classes were scheduled at various locations throughout Cedar Rapids and Linn County to provide education and outreach about the community group buy program. LCPH and the City of Cedar Rapids contacted several venues to host the educational meetings. Meetings were held at a medical pavilion, libraries, city halls/parks/civic centers, secondary and post-secondary schools, restaurants, churches, nature and spirituality centers, county conference rooms, a grocery store, and local businesses. The facilitator presented the program power point and answered questions while members from the advisory team were present at each meeting to assist with program sign-ups, questions answering, AV and IT support, and meeting logistics. The facilitator is an active community member who attended training on renewable energy. MREA provided compensation for the facilitator's time while leading the Solar Power Hours. A marketing strategy was implemented to share information about the upcoming Solar Power Hours and to generate excitement about the program. A press release announcing the program was issued to local media sources. Advisory committee members and public health interns hung posters (printed and paid for by MREA) at various public locations. Information about the program was shared in newsletters, emails, and on the social media pages of the community partners. The advisory committee met via conference call each week during planning and implementation. Marketing and education efforts were discussed during the meetings. Weekly program updates were also provided by the solar PV installer, Moxie Solar. Once the sign-up deadline passed, the installations increased and the committee met monthly for updates. A spreadsheet of installs was updated weekly so advisory members could view program progress. The community partners on the advisory committee and host venues provided additional program advertising and marketing at little to no cost. This grass-roots effort benefitted from the involvement of several local partners and organizations. The enthusiasm for the project was evident by the attendance of almost 500 residents at the Solar Power Hours resulting in 103 solar installations throughout Linn County. ANY CRITERIA FOR WHO WAS SELECTED TO RECEIVE THE PRACTICE? The solar PV contractor (installer) was selected via a competitive bid process led by MREA and the local advisory committee. The program was open to residents, farmers, businesses, and non-profits who own property in Linn County. Renters were not allowed to participate in the program. The primary target for marketing were local homeowners. The pricing of solar PV installation for businesses is more competitive but business owners were welcome to participate in the program. WHAT IS THE TIMEFRAME FOR THE PRACTICE? March 2016: Solar Powering Iowa Conference at Kirkwood Hotel. Presentation by MREA on Solar Group Buy program January 2017: Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator contacts potential community partners to gauge interest in being part of program; organizations contacted include Linn County (Public Health), Iowa BIG, Matthew 25, Iowa 350 and Green Iowa AmeriCorps. Linn County, Iowa 350, and Green Iowa express interest. Sustainability Coordinator contacts MREA about possibility of Group Buy in community. MREA is interested. February 2017: February 10, City Resolution signed by mayor designating City's commitment to being solar ready” and pursuing a solar readiness rating with the SolSmart framework March 2017: MREA convenes RFP Advisory Committee (includes MREA, City of CR, Linn County, Iowa 350, and an interested resident) to customize RFP to CR/Linn County area and values. April 2017: MREA issues RFP on 4/11 via web (, email distribution list, and social media (420 professional members on list). April iGreenCR newsletter features story on Solar Group Buy, sent to 400+ contacts. May 2017: May 5, Council Update – Solar Group Buy - Community solar opportunity.” RFP responses due 5/12. Four installers from region submitted, including Moxie, Eagle Point, Atwood Electric (Sigourney), and Energy Consultants Group (Anamosa). RFP Advisory Committee scores proposals on several categories, including qualifications, location, project team, price, practices, and references. Firm selected 5/27 (contract held by MREA, commits installer to group buy structure). Programming Team forms to schedule sites and promotions for Solar Power Hours, includes MREA, City of CR, Linn County, Green Iowa, Iowa 350. May iGreenCR newsletter features story on Solar Group Buy, sent to 400+ contacts. The Nature Conservancy and Indian Creek Nature Center are asked to help promote. June 2017: June 9 and June 16, Council Update – Solar Group Buy.” June iGreenCR newsletter features story on Solar Group Buy, sent to 400+ contacts. June-Sept. 2017: Twenty-three Solar Power Hours held across Linn County, which are public educational events on solar basics and details of program. MREA-hired Solar Power Hour facilitator provides presentation. Representatives from City or County, Alliant Energy, and Solar Installer are present to answer questions, as needed. September 2017: Group Buy contracts must be signed by September 30 for guaranteed pricing. December 2017: Installations must be completed December 31, 2017. WERE OTHER STAKEHOLDERS INVOLVED? What was their role in the planning and implementation process? What does the LHD do to foster collaboration with community stakeholders? Describe the relationship(s) and how it furthers the practice goal(s). The Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County was a community effort, utilizing the resources of the local city and county governments, non-profit organizations, utility companies, solar PV installer, businesses, libraries, churches, secondary and post-secondary schools, and private citizens. Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County solar group buy is administered by Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). The Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Cedar Rapids invited Linn County Public Health and local non-profit agencies to become partners in the effort to bring the solar group buy program to our county. Several agencies signed on as partners for this exciting opportunity. The advisory committee consisted of members from: MREA (project coordinator and funder), the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County Public Health (Linn County), Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350, The Nature Conservancy, a private citizen, the Solar Power Hour facilitator, and Moxie Solar, once selected through the competitive RFP process,. In addition to the advisory committee, LCPH contacted several stakeholders to invite them to host a Solar Power Hour at their facility. These host venues provided meeting space free of charge and many promoted the project and upcoming Solar Power Hour meetings to their citizens, customers, clients, and staff. The role of the advisory committee includes attendance at weekly meetings during the planning and implementation stages. The committee is responsible for the review of the RFP applications to determine which installer would be awarded the contract. Committee members helped to promote the project and upcoming Solar Power Hour by sending information to email distribution lists, social media, and hanging posters in various public locations. We also scheduled the host venues and provided feedback from the community during implementation. Two electric utilities were invited to attend the Solar Power Hours. In addition, MREA reached out to both utilities to share information about the upcoming Solarize project so they could prepare to handle additional interconnection applications. One electric utility provided at least one Renewable Energy representative at every Solar Power Hour. That representative explained the interconnection process and they stayed after the meetings to answer questions for as long as they needed. This utility went beyond what was requested, offering an enhanced customer service experience for participants. WHAT DOES THE LHD DO TO FOSTER COLLABORATION WITH COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS? Describe the relationship(s) and how it further the practice goal(s). Linn County Public Health (LCPH) fostered collaboration with community stakeholders through our efforts as active participants on the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County advisory committee and through the marketing and promotion efforts by the department. LCPH utilized existing partnerships and fostered new ones throughout this program. Participation in this project also offered a new opportunity to work with and serve the citizens of Linn County. As a member of the project advisory committee, Linn County Public Health representatives attended the weekly committee conference calls, assisted with RFP application review, attended several Solar Power Hours, and listened to concerns and feedback from the citizens/stakeholders/committee members and made adjustments as needed. These weekly interactions developed relationships with the team members that will be useful for future projects. LCPH contacted several community partners to extend an invite to host a Solar Power Hour. LCPH recognizes the contributions of the community partners and acknowledge that the program's success was a result of teamwork by many people supporting a common cause. ANY START UP OR IN-KIND COSTS AND FUNDING SERVICES ASSOCIATED WITH THIS PRACTICE? Please provide actual data, if possible. Otherwise, provide an estimate of start-up costs/budget breakdown. In the case of the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County, MREA covered all directs costs of the program. Some communities may decide to contribute directly to the marketing costs. MREA's solar group buy programming is supported through foundation funding and administrative fees paid by the solar installation firm selected for the program (see description under Sustainability”). Linn County Public Health recorded approximately 300 hours in direct labor to support the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County initiative. In-kind costs include personnel costs devoted to coordinating and promoting events related to RFP review, attendance at advisory committee meetings, scheduling host venues for solar power hours, marketing efforts, attending Solar Power Hour meetings, and press release review and editing. There are gas expenses associated with driving to and from SPH locations and to and from local businesses to hang flyers advertising the program.
WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT? TO WHAT EXTENT WERE YOUR OBJECTIVES ACHIEVED? PLEASE RE-STATE YOUR OBJECTIVES. The goal of the solar group buy was to increase solar education and installations in Linn County, IA through a group purchase involving free information sessions and a competitive bidding process. The primary customer measure was the number of eligible program participants attending our educational sessions called the Solar Power Hour.” Through tremendous collaboration with our community partners, Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County was able to host twenty-three community education and outreach events with individual participants representing 454 unique households attending. With 103 solar panel installations, this represents a conversion rate of 23%. As the program rolled out to the community, attendance at the first Solar Power Hour (June 13, 2017) was tremendous. After getting the initial early movers,” it was thought that attendance would drop off. To our surprise, the Solar Power Hours remained well attended through final event, September 7, with 24 attendees (compared to the program average of 21 attendees). The primary outcome measure was total installed solar power, measure in kilowatts (kW). This was to be done over a three-month period ending September 30, 2017. A Request for Proposal (RFP) was solicited to local solar photovoltaic installer with the intent to select one or more firms to provide system design and installation services for eligible participants of the group buy. In the RFP, specific pricing discount thresholds of 50 kW, 150, 250 kW, and 350 kW were established as part of the RFP response criteria. At the end of the program a total installed solar capacity of 605 kW was contracted, far exceed the top tier goal of 350 kW. DID YOU EVALUATE YOUR PRACTICE? The Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County The outcome measure of solar photovoltaic also allowed us to evaluate the environmental benefits of converting from fossil fuel fired electric generation to solar generate electricity. As we measured installed capacity, we updated our progress on CO2 emissions removed, gallons of water diverted, and utility saving by consumers. LIST ANY PRIMARY DATA SOURCES, WHO COLLECTED THE DATA, AND HOW (IF APPLICABLE) Using Basecamp and Google Apps, the team share metrics on program leads and program outcomes on a shared spreadsheet platform. Sign in sheets were completed at all Solar Power Hours and entered as leads in Basecamp. Individuals could also register for program updates on line at the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County website. Moxie Solar updated the number of proposals delivered and contracts signed on a weekly basis. The power capacity of each system was recorded with each transaction in Basecamp whereby consumer cost saving and environmental benefits (e.g. CO2e and H20 reductions) were calculated. LIST ANY SECONDARY DATA SOURCES USED (IF APPLICABLE) Linn County Public Health utilized the US EPA AVERT Tool to calculate air quality emissions reductions from the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County program. AVERT is a free tool with a simple user interface designed to meet the needs of state air quality planners and other interested stakeholders. Users can easily use AVERT to evaluate county-level emissions displaced at electric power plants by Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EE/RE) policies and programs. AVERT uses public data (secondary data) that are accessible and auditable. AVERT's Main Module estimates the displaced emissions likely to result from EE/RE programs in reference to a base year or future year scenario. Users select one of 10 AVERT regions, upload a regional data file, and input data on the EE/RE programs they want to analyze. For RE programs, users need to know the capacity of the solar or wind resource they want to analyze. Linn County Public Health utilized the Upper Midwest regional electric generation data set provided in AVERT to estimate the air quality emissions reductions resulting from our program. LIST PERFORMANCE MEASURES USED. INCLUDE PROCESS AND OUTCOME MEASURES AS APPROPRIATE. The outcomes measures were: Total installed solar panel systems (103) Total power generated from installed systems (605 kW). Annual Air Quality Benefits o CO2 = 760 tons o SO2 = 1710 lbs o NOX = 1230 lbs o PM2.5 = 60 lbs Process measures Education and Outreach o Number of Solar Power Hours (23) o Number of Unique Households Reached (454) o Number of Times Solarize Cedar Rapids Linn County was Covered by Local Media (7) o Number of Posters Publicly Placed (63) o Social Media (Six Facebook Posts with total reach of 509 individuals ranging from 23 to 232 per post. Our average reach is between 100-150) DESCRIBE HOW RESULTS WERE ANALYZED Using Basecamp and Google Apps, the team shared metrics on Solar Power Hour participant leads and program outcomes on a shared spreadsheet platform. The Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County partners updated and reviewed these metrics weekly. Moxie Solar updated the number of proposals delivered and contracts signed on a weekly basis. The power capacity of each system was recorded with each transaction in Basecamp/Google Apps whereby consumer cost saving and environmental benefits (e.g. CO2e and H20 reductions) were estimated using published conversion factors. Water usage from fossil fuel fired power is based on the USGS 2010 published rate of 19 gal/kWhr. Sign in sheets were completed at all Solar Power Hours and entered as leads in Basecamp/Google App tracking spreadsheet. We logged the number and location of posters printed and distributed. Social media results were collect from analytic tools provided by Facebook. At the end of the program, Air Quality outcomes were analyzed using the EPA AVERT Tool previously described. Customer feedback was solicited from two groups: (1) those who attended a Solar Power Hour but did not initiate a contract to install solar power in the home and (2) those who did install a solar power system through the program. Those who did not install were asked the following questions. Did you attend a Solar Power Hour? Did you receive a proposal to go solar through the program? Did you go solar through a different installer than the one selected for the program? What was the primary reason you decided not to go solar through this program? In what way(s) could we have improved your experience? Do you plan to go solar in the future? The big takeaway from the results of this survey is that 88% of folks who declined said maybe or yes when asked if they intend to go solar in the future. We found that to be incredibly important information to the partners, as we believe it speaks to both the efficacy of educational campaigns like this and to some extent the contagion effect of a community based solar power outreach program. Installation of all contracted systems is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. Once that milestone is reached, a Google Survey will be distributed to all customers who participated in the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County group buy. How did you learn about the solar group buy? What did you like about working with Moxie Solar? In what ways could Moxie Solar improve? How would you rate communication with Moxie Solar? How likely is it that you would recommend Moxie Solar to a friend or colleague? Is it important to you that the City of Cedar Rapids was a partner on the solar group buy program? Without the solar group buy, how likely were you to install solar? Is it important to you that Linn County was a partner on the solar group buy program? Is it important to you that an independent, nonprofit organization (in this case, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association) was a partner on the solar group buy program? Did you attend a Solar Power Hour (informational presentation)? If Yes, how informative did you find the Solar Power Hour? (If No, then skip) How important is it to you that the information provided at the Solar Power Hour is developed and presented by the MREA? I know more about issues relating to solar as a result of this program. I am more likely to pay attention to energy policy issues in my state because of my participation in the solar group buy program. I am pleased that my participation in this program comes with a complimentary MREA membership. I am now more aware of solar resources and tools available to me (for example: MREA's online courses, the Energy Fair,, etc.) WERE ANY MODIFICATIONS MADE TO THE PRACTICE AS A RESULT OF THE DATA FINDINGS? Since the goal of 350 KW of installed solar capacity was easily met, additional tiers could have been added up to 600 KW. The advisory committee was surprised at how receptive the media was to the program. Additional information, pictures, and testimonials of the program would have been useful when responding to media inquiries.
One of the unique features of the Solar Group Buy program is the funding. The RFP and contract was structured with the selected solar installation firm (Moxie Solar) to include funding for the Solar Group Buy partnership. In exchange for the education and outreach, Moxie received the benefit of a large captive customer base. As previously mentioned, there was a 22.9% conversion of households attending the Solar Power Hours. In return, Moxie made financial commitments to MREA as part of their response to the RFP. An administrative fee of $5,000 was due from the selected firm upon selection. An additional fee of 0.10 $/watt for all contracted installations above 50kW. These fees covered costs associated with website development and hosting, development and printing of brochures and posters, and MREA staff time in preparing the RFP, developing education and outreach materials, and hosting weekly team progress meeting. This fee also paid the stipend for an independent trained facilitator to present the Solarize Cedar Rapids & Linn County program at each of the 23 Solar Power Hours. These fees adequately covered the direct costs of the program throughout its entirety. Linn County Public Health, City of Cedar Rapids, and the local partners provided their time in-kind.” Although there was not a significant financial burden on Linn County or Cedar Rapids by this in-kind effort, it is something to be considered in future applications. In conclusion, it appears that this program is structurally sustainable through the funding mechanism established in the RFP/Contracting process with the solar installation firm. From a consumer perspective, the final installed cost of the solar power system was significantly reduced. The group buy reduced the price per watt of installed capacity by 30% below prevalent US market rates. Federal tax incentives of 30% and Iowa state tax incentives of 15% provide additional cost reductions resulting in an average payback period of 8 years. The solar panels are warrantied for 25 years and the DC/AC inverted is 12 years. The payback period is well within the projected life of the system. The greatest concern is the availability of the federal and state tax credits in the future and how this will impact the adoption of solar photovoltaic by the consumer. The technology behind solar photovoltaic continues to advance which will improve efficiency and reduce costs. In conclusion, a Solar Group Buy is an excellent approach to adopting solar PV in a sustainable manner. It requires a short- term effort applied to a geographically defined area. It is scalable to the resources available to the partners involved. MREA has proven to be an excellent non-profit partner that can provide technical and financial resource. The geographic focus can be as small as neighbor or as large as a county. When completed, the program may be redeployed later within or outside the same geographic target area. MREA and Linn County has already been approached by neighboring counties to the north and south about interest in adopting this practice for their community
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