Solarize

Solarize Dunwoody member Tina Wilkinson is helping to rally up support in her community after participating in a similar program held in Decatur.

A community-driven solar power movement is hoping to turn Dunwoody into Sunwoody.

Solarize Dunwoody kicked off with a solar town hall June 27 where program organizers presented residents with information on converting to solar energy.

Solarize is a national movement, dating back to 2009 in Portland, Oregon, that helps bring solar power to local communities — helping them to go green and save money both on the cost of implementation and on long-term power bills.

The Dunwoody program, which is planned to officially run from this September through January of 2018, is the fourth Solarize program to run in Georgia. Previously, programs have been held in Decatur, Athens and Savannah.

The basic idea is that through a series of workshops, informational sessions and smaller social gatherings, homeowners, businesses, and nonprofits within a community can not only build local interest in solar, but save money through bulk purchasing.

Through a tiered pricing system, the more people that sign on to make the conversion, the cheaper the cost is for everyone involved.

Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia, said the Solarize Decatur program had 850 participants. In the end, she said 120 solar systems were installed in Decatur as a result, which equaled 1.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide avoided.

According to Donald Moreland, Decatur residents were able to save 25 percent on their solar installations through the program in addition to a 30 percent tax credit offered. Moreland is the owner of Solar Crowdsource, the for-profit company partnering with the Solarize Georgia programs.

Moreland said the movement is very community-focused, with local residents and organizations working together to promote the idea. The Dunwoody Sustainability Committee is one of the sponsors and the Dunwoody Homeowners Association is also involved.

Tina Wilkinson, a Dunwoody resident, participated in the Decatur program with the intention of looking at her own home. Now, she is helping to spearhead the effort in her own community.

“Solarize is about clean energy and a cleaner environment for everyone,” Wilkinson said, whose Dunwoody home is now outfitted with solar panels on the roof. “But this cannot be done alone and takes a community. That aspect is very important.”

For Wilkinson and her husband, reducing pollution was an important factor in making the switch.

Dunwoody City Council Member Lynn Deutsch said Wilkinson approached the city several months ago with the idea.

“The city has no financial obligations to this, [...] but I am thrilled to have it here,” Deutsch said.

Gayer said currently, around 75 percent of Georgia’s energy comes from fossil fuels with most of the rest coming from Nuclear power.

But solar has seen rapid growth in the United States, with an estimated additional 1 million solar installations expected in the next two years, she said. The number of jobs in the solar industry has also doubled since 2010, with nearly 4,000 of those jobs in Georgia.

“This has made solar more affordable than ever as the cost of the components is getting cheaper as we make more,” Gayer said.

In Georgia, there is not a robust policy framework existing in regards to solar, Moreland said. High upfront costs and a lack of suitable financing options have proven to be barriers, he said.

“When some people think of solar they think it is not affordable unless subsidies are involved, but what we have done here through our public-private partnership is remove barriers to communities implementing more solar,” he said.

Moving forward, the Solarize Dunwoody program will determine what local residents’ top priorities are from a list of criteria. These include system quality, system warranty, pricing, innovative concepts and implementation plan.

Depending on which criteria are most important to Dunwoody residents, the program can adapt to insure those aspects are focused on the most.

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