One month after installing solar panels onto the roof of his Alexandria home, Tyler Orton had a blank energy bill. Orton owed zero dollars and had created more energy than he used. In July, during Orton’s family’s highest levels of energy consumption, the check at the end of the month amounted to only $30. Last year, Orton was one of 15 Alexandrians who had solar panels installed on their homes through the SolarizeAlexandria program.
Through Oct. 9, SolarizeAlexandria is engaging in the second year of a campaign to make more Alexandria homes like Orton’s. SolarizeAlexandria is the local part of a regional campaign started in 2014. The regional program helps residents make their homes more energy efficient or even energy self-sufficient.
“The City of Alexandria is forward thinking about sustainability and protecting the environment,” said Robert Lazaro, director of Regional Energy and Sustainability Policy for the Northern Virginia Commission. “It’s a natural fit for the city.”
For a couple months every year, Lazaro also gets an energy bill with zero dollars due. Lazaro says the solar panels he installed on his house in 2014 usually offsets 60 percent of his energy use and in April, May, and October, the solar panels are enough to run all of his energy needs.
“It’s about helping people meet their individual goals; whether it’s reducing individual impact from CO2 emissions or energy security.”
— Robert Lazaro, Director of Regional Energy and Sustainability Policy for the Northern Virginia Commission
While the ultimate achievement is getting solar panel on homes, the program also helps homeowners with free “energy audits” where their home’s energy consumption is reviewed.
Bill Eger, Alexandria’s energy manager, says the program has three goals: to highlight the city priorities and for solar energy, so educate consumers on the price accessibility of greener energy options, and to help Alexandria citizens through the often technical and sometimes foreboding process of adding solar panels to a home.
“This is a way for someone interested to have a handhold for this process,” said Eger. “It can help you see whether you’re eligible and if you get enough light. [We] can help walk you through a highly technical process.”
While the ultimate achievement is getting solar panel on homes, those who sign up with the program at no cost are still eligible for a free home energy audit. The auditor shows the homeowner where the highest levels of energy use are and how the homeowner can reduce their energy consumption. Lazaro says the audit can save the average homeowner around $80 per year. After the audit, those who sign up with the program can also have their household assessed to see if solar panels would make sense for the house.
Eger says the program isn’t funded by the city, but by Dominion Power and other contributors. The cost for the homeowner comes if they decide to install solar panels. Prices can vary per home. Lazaro said they can cost as little as $9,000 but others have had installments totalling more than $40,000.
Last year, 313 Alexandrians signed up for the program. One hundred and sixteen had their homes analyzed to see if they would be a good fit for solar panels, and 15 decided to install them.
“It’s an order of magnitude less, but that’s equated to 70 kilowatts of power that are being installed,” said Eger. “Last year was our first time, we didn’t have a strict expectation, but we were hoping for around 10 or 15 to sign up. This year, we’re doing additional outreach and info sessions trying to push it up to 20 or 25.”
Throughout the region, Lazaro said 85 people have had solar panels installed through the program since it started in 2014.
“Since 2013, we’ve increased solar power’s presence by six percent,” said Lazaro. “It’s helping folks, even if they have no interest in power. Six hundred and three people have gotten home energy checkups. It’s about helping people meet their individual goals; whether it’s reducing individual impact from CO2 emissions or energy security … and at the end of the day, nothing is mandatory. It’s all voluntary.”
To get started with a free home energy check-up and solar site assessment, use the Northern Virginia Solar Map, or learn more about cost-effective home solar power options, visit www.solarizealexandria.org.