Solar panels are growing in popularity across Arizona and the country as the price of installing them has gradually fallen within reach of more homeowners. A nonprofit is now launching its second solar panel co-op in Tucson to help anyone interested navigate the market.
Laura Dent looked at the solar panels on her roof.
“It was so much rain this summer, that I’m sure it got a little dirty up there,” Dent said.
Dent is 35 and leads an activist coalition in Arizona. She used to work for an environmental justice organization, but she said she’s never really considered herself an environmentalist. She does identify as bicultural, Latina and a lifelong Arizonan. And to her, the movement often feels fairly white, affluent and a little out of reach.
“I think that shows up and how we talk about environmental issues, whether it’s access to solar panels or electric vehicles, or, you know, Patagonia products and Birkenstocks,” Dent said.
She said that doesn’t mean she won’t wear Birkenstocks, but she does feel outside the conversation when it comes to making moves in her own life to help curb climate change. But now, she has solar panels, thanks to a co-op she joined last year.
“They came. They provided us some estimates on how many panels could be installed,” Dent said. “It was very seamless, honestly.”
She said she and her partner took turns attending virtual meetings and felt they were getting a good deal when the time came to make the decision.
“It felt like I understood my options, and I didn’t feel as compelled to shop around necessarily knowing that I’m essentially going to, like, the Costco of solar,” Dent said.
Solar United Neighbors is the nonprofit that organized the co-op the couple joined.
Bret Fanshaw is the Arizona program director for the organization, and he said the co-op model is a better deal. That’s because when a number of households come together to learn about the process, then buy from a single provider voted on by the group, it gives consumers more leverage.
“It’s daunting, in some cases because you both have to understand the technology, how it works,” Fanshaw said. “Is it going to work for my house? Is it something that I can afford?”
He said people who are curious can join the co-op without committing to getting them. The organization held its first round in Tucson last year, where it led information sessions and helped members navigate financing and available tax credits. About one third of the 165 households that joined ultimately installed panels.