Solarize U offers special deal on rooftop solar panels to UO employees

UO employees can get solar electricity at a discount through Solarize U

You can’t run your alarm clock on sunshine daydreams, but you can wake up to a solar-powered home thanks to a new program that gives members of the UO community a good deal on rooftop photovoltaic panels.

Known as Solarize U, the new program is aimed at boosting the number of Eugene-area homes generating power from the sun. It combines discounts with an expedited process that can have solar power flowing to a home in a matter of months instead of the year or more it typically takes.

The program was created by the UO’s Office of Sustainability and managed by Northwest SEED, a nonprofit group that promotes clean energy in the Pacific Northwest. The group works with local solar panel installers to negotiate a group rate and develop a streamlined design and installation process and then offers a special deal to community members.

Steve Mital, the UO’s sustainability director, said rooftop solar is to energy what gardening is to agriculture.

“When you install solar panels, you increase local energy security, lower your summertime bill and gain direct experience with energy production,” he said.  “Just like when you grow your own tomatoes.”

Here’s how it works: The first step is to attend one of several workshops where information on solar power, the process and costs are discussed. People learn if their house is a good candidate for solar, how it can lower energy costs and what their system and financing options are.

The workshops are the heart of the program, and attendance at one of them is required for participation in Solarize U. Four workshops are scheduled at the UO in late October and early November.

After the workshop, participants are paired with an installer, choose a solar panel system and get a single bid. Then it’s just a matter of scheduling the installer, mounting the panels and connecting them to the home’s power system.

“Our local committee of experts, which includes three UO faculty members, and with support from NW SEED, negotiated a discount price, vetted the installers and simplified the process,” Mital said.

The one catch is that it’s a limited-time offer; people have to register and attend a workshop and, if they choose to participate, commit to a purchase by the end of this year to qualify.

Northwest SEED is working with the UO Office of Sustainability to bring the program to campus, although members of the Eugene-Springfield community also are being invited to sign up. A group of four local solar contractors, taking part as the Eugene Solar Coalition, will do installations.

With federal tax credits and state incentives, standard rooftop systems pay back in approximately six to nine years. After that, the equipment produces free solar power for another 20-25 years with minor maintenance.

And by participating in the Solarize program, property owners receive about $1,500, or 15 percent, off regular installation costs.

Mital said he hopes to see 70 homes fitted with solar panels through the program. An extra benefit is that for every 35 homes that take part, the installers will provide a free solar panel system for a local nonprofit group. 

“ELAW, one of Eugene’s most respected environmental organizations, will receive the first donated installation,” Mital said. “We’re still identifying a recipient for the second free installation.”

The four UO workshops will be offered on:

  • Thursday, Oct. 22, from 6-7:30 p.m., Room 112, Lillis Hall
  • Wednesday, Oct. 28, from noon-1:30 p.m., Room 112 Esslinger Hall
  • Monday, Nov. 9, from noon-1:30 p.m., Room 112 Esslinger Hall
  • Wednesday, Nov. 11, from 6-7:30 p.m., Room 207, Condon Hall

Northwest SEED has run similar programs in Washington that resulted in solar installations on 718 homes, creating a $17.5 million investment and 24 green jobs. It has run 11 campaigns and educated more than 3,000 people on the benefits of solar energy. The program is based in Seattle.

For more information, contact UO Sustainability Director Steve Mital at smital@uoregon.edu

—By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications