On Monday, Orange County announced their partnership with other organizations such as the League of Women Voters and Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FLSun) in a new solar energy co-op that will allow residents in the county to switch to solar energy in their homes with ease as well as support and assistance from those who already have it.

Solar energy has become more economically viable now and less expensive, costs having dropped 80 percent over the last 10 years. But in addition, the co-op will provide bulk discounts up to 20 percent for participating homeowners.

And of course, a more permanent benefit will be saving the environment for generations to come.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the co-op was another stride in their goals toward protecting the environment.

“Sustainability is very important,” she said. “It’s our goal to reduce reliability on nonrenewable energy sources. This is a great example of how we’re doing it.”

She said solar energy had long been an “expensive and intimidating” idea to her, but the co-op provides an easy in due to the bulk discounts and the availability of information about the how’s and why’s of solar energy.

“I was excited for the opportunity myself,” Jacobs said, adding that she’s getting solar on her own property. “If you’re interested in saving money and working to improve the environment, this is your opportunity.”

Sara Isaac, president of the Central Florida Chapter of the League of Women Voters, said solar energy was a worthy cause and a “clear win-win for the environment and consumers.”

Orange County Community, Environmental and Developmental Services Director Jon Weiss said he was a perfect example of someone previously skeptical of solar energy – he was not a typical solar customer, he said, in that he wasn’t already excited about it when he heard about it. Instead, he went in with a cautious optimism.

“It needed to make sense for me,” he said. “Understanding the environmental benefits of solar – reducing the carbon footprint, going energy independent, relieving yourself from the pressure of being connected to the grid – all those things were bonuses, but I needed to understand my context and my situation.”

Weiss described the co-op group he joined as warm and welcoming, and they helped him answer questions he said many others would probably have: was he a good candidate for solar? Did his roof have the right angles and elevations to accommodate solar? How much was it going to cost? Were there any tax incentives to switching to solar energy?

In the end, Weiss and his wife flipped on their solar energy in May of this year, and so far they’re reportedly very happy with it.

The deadline to sign up for the co-op is December 2016, and the county’s goal is to get 500 participants in the program. Solar permits can now be obtained in a single day, as the county has worked to streamline the process to make it easier for residents.

There will be three information sessions on solar energy on August 22, 23 and 24. For more information visit www.flsun.org/orangecounty.

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