WEATHER WATCH
Coalition uses sunshine to create energy savings for those below the area median income
Solarize Asheville-Buncombe, a newly formed local renewable energy coalition, is working to get homeowners, businesses and nonprofits affordable access to solar power. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Sunday's official start of summer brings higher energy demand and a potential jump in your power bill -- if that hasn’t already happened.

In Buncombe County, a new solar program hopes to change that by summer 2022 by lowering a family’s energy burden. News 13 looked into the program and how it may help families lower a costly household expense.

HIGH INTEREST IN MOUNTAIN SOLAR INITIATIVE MEANS LOWER PRICES

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe’s goal is to use group buying power to lower the cost of solar energy, making it more affordable for those looking to use solar to offset their power bills. The Neighbor to Neighbor program, one component of the Solar GroupSource effort, takes it a step further for those who qualify by helping pay for the installation. 

Coalition uses sunshine to create energy savings for those below the area median income

"As you can see, my house is right in the sun,” said Millicent Johnson, as she stood outside her Weaverville home.

It make it ideal to power Johnson's patio lights, which have solar panels, but using solar to power her house seemed out of reach.

“I’ve thought about it for a very long time, did my research, but the prices were just out of my price range,” Johnson said. 

COALITION WANTS TO USE GROUP-PURCHASE CAMPAIGN TO MAKE SOLAR POWER AFFORDABLE

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe’s Neighbor to Neighbor Solar initiative program looks to change that. Its goal is to help pay or defray solar panel installation costs. 

Johnson took a chance to see if she would qualify.

“I immediately sent an email, I think it was Thursday night, someone called me Friday, I sent in all the needed requirements and Monday afternoon I was approved,” said Johnson.

The program is structured for those making less than the area median income, ultimately working to lower their power bill.

“We’re here to help as many people go solar as possible,” said Michelle Myers, of the Neighbor to Neighbor program.

As many as 100 homes are being evaluated to see who may qualify. Only home owners can participate.

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe, a newly formed local renewable energy coalition, is working to get homeowners, businesses and nonprofits affordable access to solar power. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

“A solar estimate is free. Someone will let you know if you’ll save money every month -- if it will be a little bit more or a little bit less,” said Myers.

Enrollment is through August. Those approved will need to acquire a city permit and Duke Power approval. 

Panel installation right now looks like it could start in October, and the savings differs depending on household size, energy efficiency and usage.

Based on the estimates, Johnson said her savings could be significant.

“It means more money in my pocket, so I can do other things," Johnson said. "You know, you just can’t skip your utility bill."

It would mean money she can put toward growing her Jamaican cuisine catering business.

“Now that I’m approved, seeing how I just started my small business, Tayse of Di Islands, I’ll have more money now to put into my business versus utilities,” said Johnson.

That alone would make a difference for her family.

“Word can’t even describe how grateful I am for this program and being able to utilize it,” said Johnson.

To see if your home qualifies, you must be the homeowner and your name must be on the utility bill. You can find the information to register and get an estimate on if you’re a candidate for the potential savings by going to Solarize Asheville Buncombe’s Solar CrowdSource webpage HERE.

Through the Gren Built Alliance, the Neighbor to Neighbor program is also raising funds to assist more homeowners in Asheville and Buncombe County.  They've raised $75,000 toward their goal of $200,000.  You can learn more about their donation program HERE

The Solarize Asheville-Buncombe's community coalition partners consists of Blue Horizons Project, the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Green Built Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club – WENOCA, Hood Huggers International Umoja Collective, Asheville Homestay Network, MountainTrue, and The Collider, and is administered by Solar Crowdsource.

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