The Ecovillage Cohousing Cooperative in Ithaca NY installed a 50 kWh solar energy system that will offset 55%-60% of the residents’ electricity use and eliminate over 250 tons of carbon emissions each year. While residents wanted to go solar, a project relying on 30 individual roofs and meters was too difficult, costly and cumbersome, and not all residents had the capacity to finance a solar project by themselves. Instead, they developed a community-scale solar array that connects to the grid by using four existing central connection nodes rather than having to create 30 new interconnections, which saved time and money. A new master smart metering system allows residents to be connected to the central project and receive tax and energy credits for their production.
The entire project cost over $275,000, which residents self-financed. Knowing that banks are wary of investing in small-scale solar, but also that banks are offering only 2% interest or less on savings, the project managers figured out a way to offer a 5% return on investment over a 20 year period while keeping electric rates the same as what residents were paying before the project was installed. After 20 years, all electricity created will basically be “free” energy – drastically reducing residential energy bills. The actual cost after state rebates and federal tax credits is estimated to be $88,000. The project created four full time and four part-time jobs for community residents.