League of Women Voters

Not a pun: SUN wants to help you go solar


Nearly a third of all homes in Montgomery County were built before 1929, rivaling Webster County, Nebraska, where the average age of homes is 91 years, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, where homes are about 88 years, or Franklin County, Nebraska, which boasts homes that are nearly 87 years old. The average age of homes in our county is 64 years old. It brings to mind the line from “It’s a Wonderful Life” — “Why do we have to live in this drafty old house anyway?”

These drafty old homes and historic buildings have good bones, that’s why. But even a beauty with good bones needs an update, not in look per se, but in energy. Some homes in Crawfordsville were built with gas lighting, coal furnaces, and even the old Sears kit of trim and 10-foot ceilings. Over the last century, many someones have rewired these lovely homes, installed furnaces, water heaters, and if we’re lucky restored lath and plaster. Many of the homes still need work, a blower door test and energy audit, updated insulation, followed by recently updated technologies such as heat pump water heaters, heat pump-based HVAC, and likely the electrical wiring to run such updates.

While all of these investments pay for themselves by peeling hundreds of dollars off of utility bills and increasing the equity of real estate, the sticker shock gives some people pause. This is why the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 matters — though its intricacies seemed carefully crafted to disincentivize most consumers. It rescues consumers from huge portions of the upfront cost. The League of Women Voters Climate Team, fronted by John Smillie’s recent presentation, is educating and connecting citizens to these affordable options.

This year, the LWVMC and the City of Crawfordsville, among others, are excited to partner with Solar United Neighbors Co-op, which will be open for just three months, through August to give businesses, non-profits and individuals the opportunity to leverage bulk buying power and purchase solar panels and battery panels for their homes and buildings. Solar power and battery storage are the next steps in energy self-determination. While they can be purchased and installed outside of the co-op, the power of group purchasing provides far more competitive costs for consumers.

Solar United Neighbors is partnering for a limited time with the League of Women Voters and other interested non-profits/individuals to create a competitive bid for locals who are interested. The co-op, which is free to join and doesn’t obligate members to purchase anything, allows for free estimates and offers Solar 101 sessions, emails and website resources for interested consumers. They’ve conducted 16 solar co-ops throughout central and northern Indiana since 2019 and they’ve helped more than 260 Hoosier households, businesses and nonprofits go solar, installing 2.25 MW of solar power, resulting in $10.3 million in energy savings over 25 years. Bonus, they’ve helped Hoosiers offset 50,000 metric tons of lifetime CO2e. In exchange for savings, members agree to share, like, promote, and host local events, and to extend and expand the impact of the SUN co-ops.

“The co-op is for a limited time (in this case three-and-a-half months) so the installers know there will be an endpoint to their winning bid. Plus, we hope to have all the installs done before the end of the year and winter comes. Solar owners can claim a 30% federal tax credit on their new systems in the year it is turned on (not necessarily the year it’s installed). While we can’t control when the utility will approve the systems to operate, we can give everyone the best possible opportunity to have their system installed and operational this year, so they can claim that 30% tax credit on their 2023 tax forms,” said Dan Robinson, Indiana Program Associate for Solar United Neighbors.

The installers actually run their bidding process before SUN is finished recruiting members. Once the co-op is running, members get to the best bids. The co-op model works because SUN has a strong track record of recruiting co-op members. It has developed fifteen co-ops in different regions around the state of Indiana.

John Smillie hopes to sign up as many businesses, non-profits, and individuals, in part because his older home’s roof is not suitable for solar panels. In lieu of being able to adapt his own home, he helped the Youth Services Bureau and Boys & Girls Club go solar.

His situation underscores the bugaboo that comes with some older construction. Though not all can go solar, all can improve energy independence and reduce energy usage. For his part, Smillie has improved insulation in his house, from caulking to installing rin joists and foam board as well as having a contractor help with cellulose insulation blown into his attic and duct sealing. All of these, Robinson added, help homeowners get the most out of their solar energy, but also improve overall energy efficiency.

Next week, in part two, the column will cover a practical plan and offer resources to guide homeowners and businesses in reducing energy bills by updating buildings and systems. This week, you’re invited sign-up early at www.solarunitedneighbors.org/waitlist if you think your business, non-profit or home would benefit from solar. If you have any questions, contact Robinson at drobinson@solarunitedneighbors.org or 219-209-3670.


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.