SUN shines bright in Crawfordsville

Homeowners, businesses eligible to join solar co-op

John Smillie discusses the benefits of solar energy from atop the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau building at 808 W. Pike St. Local officials and community members gathered at the facility Wednesday to launch Solar United Neighbors, a solar energy cooperative.
John Smillie discusses the benefits of solar energy from atop the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau building at 808 W. Pike St. Local officials and community members gathered at the facility Wednesday to launch Solar United Neighbors, a solar energy cooperative.
Tina McGrady/Journal Review

Local homeowners and businesses can learn more about solar and leverage bulk purchasing power with the formation of a new cooperative.

On Wednesday, both Montgomery and Tippecanoe counties launched Solar United Neighbors. Elected officials and community partners gathered at the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau for local kickoff ceremonies. A separate ceremony was conducted in Lafayette on Wednesday afternoon.

“The communities in Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties have done great work to promote and develop clean, sustainable energy,” said Dan Robinson with Solar United Neighbors, the nonprofit organization leading the solar co-op. “We’re excited to partner with them to help county residents go solar, creating good local jobs, making the grid more resilient, and building a clean energy future for everyone.”

Robinson said the Crawfordsville launch is the national nonprofit group’s first effort in the area.

The MCYSB facility at 808 W. Pike St. installed solar panels last year and served as the host for SUN’s local launch.

“This is exciting news for our community and an exciting opportunity,” Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said. “Today we celebrate the beginning of a new co-op that will allow local residents and businesses to install solar-generating capacity to supply their own homes and businesses by participating in the power of group purchasing, truly a win-win.”

Barton is especially proud of local efforts to embrace renewable energy.

“Through a partnership with Indiana Municipal Power Agency, Crawfordsville is able to produce 27 megawatts of power from our five solar parks,” he said. “Crawfordsville’s normal daily load is around 50 megawatts, so you can say more than half of our power is coming from solar, and much more than our old, old coal-fired plant. This is a remarkable achievement for a community our size and a testament to our resolve to further diversify our generating capacity in a manner that is both economical and has the least environmental impact.”

Robinson added that “it’s really exciting to be working with a community and a city that is so forward thinking about the benefits of renewable energy.”

John Smillie, Climate Team Chair with the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, urged residents and businesses to explore solar. He pointed to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act that allows homeowners, businesses, and now nonprofits, including state and local governments, to take advantage of 30% tax credits.

He added that the city of Crawfordsville may soon qualify as an Energy Community under the federal government guidelines, making businesses and nonprofits eligible for an additional 10% in tax credits.

“So, the tax credit just got even better and with the co-op you’re saving about 10% on the front end, so that’s about half off on your solar,” Smillie said. “You combine that with the fact CEL&P still has net metering for systems up to 10 kilowatts and you’re looking at returns that are better than the stock market for something that also reduces air pollution and is more certain than the stock market.”

Karen Branch, executive director of the MCYSB, said that since the solar panels on their building went live, the agency has saved about $150 a month on its electric bill.

“When we multiple that out to about $1,500 a year you’re talking we can run three sessions of Teen Court with that or train 10 volunteers for the JUMP program,” she said. “So, it is the gift that keeps on giving as long as the panels are there, and we keep seeing those savings that’s more money we can direct right back to the kids.”

The YSB isn’t the only local agency turning to solar. The Boys & Girls Club of Montgomery County is planning to add solar panels to its facility at 1001 Whitlock Ave.

Robinson stressed that the co-ops are free to join and open to homeowners, nonprofit organizations and business owners in Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties. Together, co-op members will learn about solar energy and leverage their numbers to purchase individual solar systems at a competitive price and quality.

Residents can sign up for the co-op for free to receive a site visit and the information they need to make an informed decision; there is no requirement that they go solar.

After a competitive bidding process facilitated by SUN, which remains vendor neutral, co-op members will select a single solar company to complete the installations. Joining the co-op does not obligate members to purchase solar. Instead, members have the option to individually purchase panels, batteries and electric vehicle chargers based on the installer’s group rate.

SUN of Indiana has completed 17 solar co-ops across the state. According to the group’s estimates, 256 homes and businesses across the state now have solar panels because of solar co-ops, representing more than 2 megawatts of solar power, $6.1 million invested in the regional economy, and more than 109 million pounds of lifetime carbon offsets.

These installations are estimated to generate nearly $300 million in electric bill savings for co-op members while their solar panels are in service.

SUN is offering Solar 101 sessions in June. The first session is slated for 6:30 p.m. June 12 at the West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave., West Lafayette. The second session is set for noon June 16 at Fusion 54, 101 W. Main St., Crawfordsville, and will be part of the LWV lunch series. A virtual third session is planned for 6:30 p.m. June 29 via Zoom. Register at