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Solar Power Pilot Opportunity for a Habitat Homeowner

Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity (RAHfH), GiveSolar and Tiger Solar will install a solar system on an already existing Habitat home as part of a new solar initiative in Virginia. Media and the public are invited on June 17, 2022 from 11 a.m. onwards to witness the installation at 39 Spencer Court, Lexington, VA 24450. (Raindate Monday, June 20)


Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity is partnering with GiveSolar, a nonprofit social impact organization that assists other nonprofits and low-income homeowners to gain access to solar energy. In 2021, GiveSolar raised funds to help Habitat affiliates in Virginia to launch solar programs. Rockbridge Area is the third Habitat affiliate in Virginia to partner with GiveSolar to install a solar system on one of the homes they built. Homeowner Gina Jones closed on her home in Greenhouse Village, just outside the Lexington City limits, in 2021, and will be the first in the neighborhood with access to solar power. Jeff Heie, Director of GiveSolar, said “Habitat has recognized that affordable housing is about both making the purchase of a house affordable and making the ongoing operation of a home affordable. Solar is an excellent tool to minimize electricity bills while contributing to long term environmental solutions.”


Habitat prides itself on creating affordable homes for purchase. With reasonably priced housing, families can expect a mortgage payment of 30% or less of their monthly income. If a family pays more than that amount, they are considered cost burdened. Similarly, families can be energy burdened. The U.S. Department of Energy defines energy burden as ‘the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs.’ On average, Virginia households experience a higher-than-average energy burden of 3.1%, compared to a national average of 2.7%. Virginia households considered low-income (≤80% Area Median Income) can face energy burdens of 6-8%. Financial strain from both high mortgage or rent payments and energy costs often leads to hard decisions regarding items like health, food, clothes, and childcare.


RAHfH builds homes to ensure energy efficiency with lower energy costs. With the addition of a solar system, homeowners should experience even more cost savings. Solar power converts natural sunlight into usable electricity for buildings. A 5-kW solar system, which is 14 solar panels, can save homeowners $60-70 a month, depending on their electric utility. Solar also protects homeowners from the rising price of natural gas, used to generate electricity, which is expected to drive up electricity rates up to 20% in the next year.


Through this pilot program partnership, Habitat and GiveSolar are installing 14 solar panels on Ms. Jones’ home. This site was chosen based on sun exposure, the position of the home, past electricity bills, and the homeowner’s willingness to partner with the organizations. On a recommendation from Give Solar, Habitat was connected with a nearby installer, Tiger Solar. With this turnkey solar energy solution, it is expected that the homeowner will immediately see the cost saving benefits. In the months ahead, Ms. Jones and RAHfH will monitor monthly energy usage and bills to determine the efficacy of the solar system and to provide guidance for possible future installations.


“I think this is a wonderful first step for our local Habitat affiliate and it offers us a perfect model for future solar opportunities,” said Carroll Comstock, Rockbridge Area Habitat volunteer, passionate solar panel advocate and himself a solar panel owner. “Jeff Heie’s guidance and persistence helped us to get on track, and despite all the untimely distractions, our staff pulled it off.”


Homeowner Gina Jones exclaimed, “Ever since I moved up here, I’ve been lucky. I always wanted to own a home with solar panels, and now I will.”


For over 30 years, Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity has built homes alongside families who will then pay an affordable mortgage. Habitat’s repair program addresses critical repairs around the home. They are proud to partner with GiveSolar and Tiger Solar on this pilot project.


GiveSolar, based in Harrisonburg, is a nonprofit social impact organization that aims to assist other non-profit organizations and homeowners with low income to gain access to solar energy through organizing community-based mutual aid. GiveSolar is collaborating on a two-year project with Habitat for Humanity Virginia and Solar United Neighbors that aims to implement solar programs within multiple Habitat affiliates around the state of Virginia. Visit GiveSolar.com


Tiger Solar (formerly Altenergy Inc) is a full-service solar EPC with 17+ years of experience designing the highest quality clean energy systems. It is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with branches strategically located in VA, MD, MI and ID. With a portfolio of 1,700+ projects across 10 states and over 21 MW of PV capacity, Tiger Solar is a team of in-house experts ready to deliver handcrafted solar energy systems that are proven to last. Visit tigersolar.com


Resources:

● “Amid global energy price spikes, Dominion customer’s bills could raise between 12 and 20 percent”; May 10, 2022 by Sarah Vogelsong at Virginia Mercury

● “Energy Burden in the Commonwealth: A Hopeful Future?”; March 22, 2021 by Zach Marhanka at Virginia Policy Review

● “Electricity Burden and the Myth of Virginia’s Rate Utopia”; August 15, 2018 at Virginia Poverty Law Center

● “Low-Income Household Energy Burden Varies Among States – Efficiency Can Help in All of Them”; December 2018 by U.S. Department of Energy, the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy


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