“It's fun as a parent to get to be able to be like, ‘Yeah, you're right. Let's do this,’” Decker says. The Denver educator and mother of two quickly realized that the cost of solar panels, as well as the difficulties determining which vendors were trustworthy and what technology was best, meant that getting an electric car was the easiest move, and the family bought a Tesla.
Solar energy was still on Decker's mind, though, so when she read about a Solar United Neighbors co-op designed to help people navigate the process of going solar and getting better rates on panels, she signed up right away. In 2019, Decker became part of the first Solar United Neighbors solar co-op; so far, 62 people have installed solar panels with the help of that co-op.
The organization, which works across the country, just announced a new solar co-op, this one in partnership with the City of Denver. The co-op will again offer aid with the research process and help Denver homeowners and small businesses save money by negotiating bulk pricing with solar installers.
New this time is a solar equity rebate program, sponsored by the city. Any household below 80 percent of the median area income will qualify for a $3,000 rebate toward solar installation; those that qualify will have access to a hardship fund for repairs or other unforeseen expenses related to their solar panels. The Denver Office of Nonprofit Engagement is also working with Solar United Neighbors to help people take advantage of other city energy-equity programs.
Decker ended up installing 26 solar panels — a particularly large array, she says, because of the direction her home faces and the amount of shade. Usually, people get about half that number. After a tax rebate through the city, the family's cost was $16,000. The federal government offers a 26 percent tax rebate for anyone who installs solar panels; those who qualify for the $3,000 rebate through the Solar United Neighbors co-op can stack it with the tax rebate.
The solar panels are as easy to maintain as her previous energy system, Decker says. Her home now has two meters, one that measures electricity use and one that measures energy created by the solar panels.
Decker sometimes watches the solar meter overtake the usage meter while she and her kids are playing in the backyard.
When Xcel comes to read the meters, it subtracts the difference, charging if the energy generated is less than the energy used and crediting the account if it’s more. So far, the family has only gotten credits, Decker says, and hasn't paid a single cent since the panels have been up and running. That's especially impressive, since the family uses that energy to charge the electric car and power the entire house.
On an app connected to her solar system, Decker can check the status of the panels. So far, according to the app, the panels installed in 2020 have produced eighteen megawatts of energy, the equivalent of eleven years of running the refrigerator; and have the carbon offset of planting 324 trees. Impressed by the home's efficiency, two neighbors have gone solar, she says.
Decker has stayed involved with Solar United Neighbors; she's eager to tell others about the possibilities of solar, particularly with the city's enhanced involvement.
“We recognize how critical it is to reduce our carbon emissions as quickly as possible, but we also need to make sure that we're doing that in a way that really brings everyone in the community along and creates better positive life outcomes for them," said Jonathan Rogers, a renewable energy specialist from the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, during an October 5 panel announcing the new co-op.
People interested in signing up for the program can do so through Solar United Neighbors before November 20.
Beyond saving money, Decker is glad that she's doing something to build a more sustainable future for her daughters, especially given Sophie’s tenacity for helping the environment. “It's really impactful when we hear these messages from our kids of, ‘Hey, why aren't we doing everything that we can?’” she notes.
Sophie’s latest project: examining the family’s food habits and questioning whether they should be eating less meat to help with their carbon footprint.