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Interest high in Beaver-Butler Solar Co-Op Meeting held Saturday at library

Interest and curiosity was high Saturday among the 50 people who attended the first meeting of the proposed Beaver-Butler Solar Co-Op.

Henry McKay of the national nonprofit Solar United Neighborhoods (SUN) outlined solar energy technology and explained the benefits it has for homeowners at the meeting in the Butler Public Library.

If 30 people sign up, the co-op would select one contractor through the request-for-proposals process to install solar systems on all member houses at a lower cost than an individual would likely pay, McKay said. Co-op membership costs $85.

Seven people signed up before the meeting and several people filled out membership applications following Saturday's presentation.

One of them was Karen Barbati of Lancaster Township.

“I'm really concerned about climate change. I want to do my part,” Barbati said.

The large garage of her house, built in 1845, faces south making it the perfect location for solar panels, she said.

The entire process from joining the co-op to completed installation takes six-to-eight months and the installations would be completed this year, McKay said.

After the co-op is formed, members will create a committee to review the proposals from contractors that SUN solicited and select a contractor with McKay's assistance. He said there are four other co-ops in the state including those in Allegheny County, Washington and Greene counties, Indiana County and Mercer and Crawford counties.

A typical house needs a solar panel system that produces 7.5 kilowatts, he said. An 8 kW system costs $22,000, but the price falls to $15,400 minus the available $6,600 federal income tax credit. A 4 kW system costs $11,000, which is reduced to $7,700 after the tax credit.

Solar panels can be installed on the roof or yard of a home, but the ground-based units operate more efficiently because they get better air flow around the panels to keep them cool. This allows them to be pointed directly at the sun, he said.

“Ideally, a solar panel faces due south,” McKay said

The panels produce direct current electricity that is converted to alternating current, which is used in homes through an inverter. String inverters installed inside are less efficient than micro inverters that are installed outside, he said.

“Any electricity not used (in the home) will go back out on the grid,” McKay said.

Utility companies including West Penn Power give solar homeowners credit for the power they send to the electrical grid through a process called net metering.

“You can overproduce in the sunny months and use those credits during the non-sunny months,” he said.

When the sun goes down, the system switches back to the power from the grid, he said.

The systems shut down during power outages, but they can run on a bank of batteries or a generator, McKay said. Batteries and generators are added expenses, he said, but they could be worth the cost if someone in the home relies on medical equipment or the home has a water well with an electric pump.

Installing panels could impact home insurance premiums because they add to the rebuilding cost, he said, but they increase property values and there is no evidence of panels lowering the value of neighboring properties.

“Solar panels add to the value of your house. There is a considerable price premium added,” McKay said.

A federal income tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of the solar system remains available this year, but the percentage drops to 26 next year and will gradually expire unless it is renewed by the government, he said.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the Marcellus Outreach Butler.

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