In much the same way Habitat for Humanity works to provide affordable housing for people with lower incomes, Indiana Solar for All strives to make solar power possible for homeowners who can’t afford the cost of solar installations.
So far, nine families have had a 10-panel, 3-kilowatt solar system installed on their homes. Another 11 families have been accepted into the program and will have systems installed this summer, fall or next spring.
“They’re all local,” said Stephanie Kimball, founder and president of Indiana Solar for All, adding all installations on homes have been in Bloomington so far.
The Bloomington-based group was conceived in August 2016, when Stephanie Kimball, founder and president of Indiana Solar for All, began talking with members of Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network, also known as SIREN, and Ryan Zaricki, owner of Whole Sun Designs.
Roadblocks in the form of bills before the Indiana General Assembly that would end net metering, which is one of the financial reasons home solar is a good investment for Hoosiers, kept Kimball, Zaricki and others from moving forward with the plan until 2018.
Kimball, who had Whole Sun Designs help install solar panels on the roof of her barn at her Monroe County property, kept working on the program because she understood how expensive installing solar power could be.
The city of Bloomington, in partnership with SIREN, continues to offer a Solarize program that allows homeowners, businesses and nonprofits in Monroe, Brown, Greene, Lawrence, Morgan, Orange and Owen counties to install solar panels at favorable rates through group-buy arrangements.
Even so, there are still homeowners who cannot afford the cost, Kimball explained.
“It still leaves out a lot of people who can’t afford the solar installation,” she said. “It’s still just out of reach for some people.”
The Indiana Solar for All program takes about 3% of the money paid for each Solarize installation and uses that to fund ISFA installations, which cost about $5,500 per house. Donations, grants and fundraisers supplement the cost of the ISFA installations.
Using volunteers also keeps the cost low, Kimball said.
Participants must give up to nine weekends of their time to help with installing panels, changing the electrical systems or in other ways, such as fundraising and food preparation. The homeowners will receive panels at a free or reduced price, depending on their household income.
The program was also awarded $6,290 through Bloomington’s Jack Hopkins fund. The money will be used for safety equipment and tools.
The first four solar installations were done in October 2018, with the first being constructed for a family who live in a Habitat for Humanity-built home in Bloomington. That installation took two days and included placing 10 panels on the roof.
As with all the installations, the homeowners have to volunteer their time as part of the payment for the installation, much as people do with Habitat houses.
Stacy Decker, volunteer coordinator for ISFA, explained that the number of people and the time needed for an installation has decreased.
“Now the crew is getting so good that the first one we did this summer and a couple we did last spring, they did in one day,” she said.
Decker said there are usually four or five people in the roof crew, three or four with the electrical crew and then others who provide food to the crew during the installation. There is also a fundraising committee that works to raise money for the next installation.
Whole Sun Design’s Zaricki said his company has contributed funds as well as volunteer hours to the program.
“It’s been really surprising to me how it has grown,” he said. “It’s been a lot of leg work, training and project management, but it’s really come together, probably better than anybody expected.”
Decker believes one of the best parts of the program is the “sweat equity” that allows people to learn something and then pass it on to others.
“Right now, we have a roof lead who worked with my husband, Greg. Now he is mentoring a roof crew member who wants to take over,” she said. “That mentorship, that passing down of lead positions, is so cool.”
Besides homeowners, Decker said other volunteers are Indiana University students, community members and friends of the households who want to help. So far, all the house installations have happened in Bloomington but this fall, some will be done on rural Monroe County homes.
What families and volunteers take away from the program is more than just getting an installation or knowledge of how to install solar panels, Decker said.
“It’s how to help each other focus on energy conservation,” she explained, adding that the program also works to help people lower their energy bills in a variety of ways, such as testing household appliances for their energy efficiency.