Solarize Fairbanks looks to buy solar power in bulk

Sunset in Fairbanks on Oct. 22, 2018 (Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)

A campaign to get Interior Alaska residents to think about household solar power is gaining popularity. A meeting Monday evening at the Ken Kunkel Community Center will discuss “Solarize Fairbanks”, a community campaign to reduce the costs of solar panels. 

Standing outside the Chapin family home on a sunny hillside north of Fairbanks, Terry Chapin looks where he might put solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

“The easiest thing would be to put them on the South-facing roof there,” he said. “The other alternative would be to put them right here just below the driveway, where they also have a view to the south here.”

Chapin is leading a meeting Monday night for his neighbors in the Goldstream Valley area, who might want to also get affordable solar power generation installed in their homes. The idea is to band together and get a bulk discount – because vendors pass on savings in parts and technology.

“So it’ll be cheaper for all of us if we go in this together, and it’ll be easier for the installer because they don’t have to go around finding people,” Chapin said.

The campaign is called Solarize Fairbanks. It has a community-driven model, run by volunteers. It has support from a lot of technology and community groups like the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, Information Insights, Native Movement, The Alaska Center, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

The campaign is trying to gather interest from home and business owners this month, in time to get solar panels installed this summer.

Coming to the meeting won’t commit anyone to solar installation, which can be expensive, especially in the short-term. The campaign wants to show Alaskans the arithmetic of saving money on their electric bills over time.

A lot of folks have already done that math and are ready to organize their neighbors to reduce costs even more. A Nov. 14 meeting in Fairbanks attracted 100 people to the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at UAF, where presenter Jamie Hansen of Information Insights talked about the Solarize Fairbanks Campaign.

“It’s a win-win,” Hansen said. “It’s a win for the building owner because you maintain control over the system that’s going to be in your home, but you’re also tapping into this incredible leverage power; you are working together with others to negotiate lower prices.”

The campaign has information about financing, getting tax credits and how businesses could get grants for solar installations. Hansen says it is a movement in Alaska. The Solarize Anchorage campaign is in its third year, with solar installations on 33 homes in the first year and 163 homes, in the 2nd year.

In Fairbanks there is a group near University Avenue and another group in Walden Estates in addition to the one in Goldstream that Chapin is organizing.

“This is what’s so great about Solarize Fairbanks, they are really knowledgeable about how to do it, so, I don’t need to know anything about solar energy, all I really need to decide is if it is something I would like to have on my home,” Chapin said.