‘Solar Barn Raising’ Presentation Next Week

By Anne Kautzky

So, you want a solar electric system for your home. The vast majority of electric coop members would like to save on energy bills, help the environment and become more energy independent. So what stops many folks from fulfilling this dream? The biggest obstacles for homeowners is the cost and the technical knowledge to do it themselves. Solar Barn Raising (SBR), a local 501c3 non-profit solar installation organization registered with the IRS and the State of Colorado, was formed four years ago to address these obstacles.

John Lyle, a registered electrical engineer in the Four Corner states and a nationally certified NAPCEP solar PV installer, manages Solar Barn Raising. He has 45 years experience working in the energy industry: utilities, hydro-electric power generation, oil and gas. However, for 50 years his passion has been about solar energy.

Solar Barn Raising’s purpose is to educate the public about solar energy and to help make solar affordable for all. What that means is that Solar Barn Raising helps homeowners install solar on their homes as inexpensively as possible. Solar Barn Raising has designed over 60 PV systems with a generation capacity of well over 250,000 watts.

Half the cost of installing solar is labor. To reduce this cost Solar Barn Raising is founded on the several-hundred-year-old American tradition, starting in the 17th century, of using volunteer community labor for construction projects. Typically it was a festive event where the community came together to raise a barn for a family who didn’t have the resources to build the barn alone. However, with Solar Barn Raising, volunteers raise or install solar PV systems instead of barns.

This is how SBR works: SBR designs a grid-tied PV solar system, specifies solar components and orders materials. The installation is performed by volunteers at a “solar barn raising” event. The homeowner just pays for materials with a 10% surcharge to cover organizational expenses.

Solar Barn Raising essentially eliminates the cost of labor, and reduces the material cost to the wholesale cost plus 10%. The upfront out-of-pocket cost is about $1.40 to $1.50 per watt. A typical home PV system is about 5,000 watts or 5 kW. The homeowner may get some rebates from the local utility, but the major financial help comes from a substantial tax credit worth 30% of the total cost of the project, which is deducted from that year’s tax bill. The final cost is typically less than $1.00 per watt. Payback is typically within about 5 years.

The homeowner is expected to participate in installations of four other homeowners and recruit other solar candidates to keep the chain going forward.

It must be emphasized that Solar Barn Raising is not a contractor. In Colorado, a homeowner can install their own PV system and electrical wiring. Therefore the homeowner is the contractor of his or her own solar project. SBR provides the technical direction, assists as necessary and helps organize the volunteer labor as required. The homeowner is a do-it-yourselfer and SBR is a partner.

SBR recognizes there are vast differences in homeowner skill sets. Some very skilled individuals just need some technical assistance and off they go. Others can bring other essential skills to the project like labor, parts organizing, recruitment of future participants and financial donations to SBR.

Everyone interested in installing a solar system for their home should attend the Solar Barn Raising community presentation in Pagosa Springs, Wednesday May 17, 7pm at 2800 Cornerstone Drive, Unit 3 (across the parking lot from the Sears store).

Help yourself. Help your community.

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