CEC Launches Group Buy Solar Program

Hopes to Put Panels on 50 Homes During Promo

“People want to put solar on their homes. They just don’t know how to take that first step,” said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf at the announcement of “Solarize Santa Barbara,” a promotion designed by the Community Environmental Council (CEC) to remedy that problem. Homeowners who enter into a “group buy” — the latest marketing craze popularized by the Web site Groupon — during the months of May, June, and July will receive discounts from two preapproved solar panel installers, REC Solar and Sun Pacific Solar Electric, and also benefit CEC.

The CEC hopes to put solar panels on 50 homes during the promotion, but Shawn Jacobson, a consultant for REC Solar, thinks they can do better. Megan Birney, renewable energy specialist with the CEC, says that the prices per watt during the group buy will be $5.60 for basic and $6.30 for “premium” (more efficient) cells, below the average market prices of $7.05 and $7.20. That discount could add up to several thousand dollars’ worth of savings on a typical residential installation, which are usually between four and eight kilowatts, according to Dan Knapp, sales manager at Sun Pacific. (Knapp also says that their normal prices are still lower than the industry average.) The “real value,” said Birney, “comes from the vetting process,” meaning that the CEC has confidence in the two vendors. Seven companies sought inclusion in the group buy.

At a press conference held at the home of Daniel Emmett, a REC Solar customer, Birney said that the four primary goals of the program (which is based on similar promotions in Salem and Portland, Oregon) are to make solar easier and cheaper, increase Santa Barbara’s energy independence, support local business, and keep the CEC sustainable. For every watt installed during the group, REC and Sun Pacific will pay the CEC a 15-cent fee. The CEC will hold four workshops in the South County — two in Santa Barbara and one each in Goleta and Carpinteria — for interested homeowners.

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