News & Media

Business Baltimore residents form solar energy co-op

Carrie Wells
The Baltimore Sun
April 11, 2015

Mark Parker has installed extra insulation in the attic of his Highlandtown house to conserve on utilities, planted vegetables in the backyard, swapped in low-flow shower heads, and even uses a special balloon in the tank of his toilet to ensure less water is used with every flush.

But taking his environmentalism to the next level — installing solar panels on his home’s roof — seemed too complicated and expensive.

That is, until civic activists contacted him, seeking to organize a cooperative of people interested in buying solar panels.

The solar co-op, being organized mainly among Southeast Baltimore residents, intends to leverage the buying power of a group to negotiate a more favorable price for the panels with a contractor. The process of going solar can be unfamiliar, so taking advantage of a co-op’s collective know-how can be a big draw.

“That’s the big appeal for us,” said Parker, a pastor at Breath of God Lutheran Church. “It’s exciting to get together with your neighbors. When we all go in together, it seems like we’re making more of a difference in making our environment more sustainable.”

The solar industry is booming in Maryland, and co-ops are growing more popular. Last year, a group of various green organizations and churches launched the Baltimore Interfaith Solar Co-op, drawing 90 residents across the metro area. That co-op was believed to be the first of its kind in the Baltimore area.

About 25 other co-ops have been launched in the past two years across Maryland, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, according to Corey Ramsden, the Maryland program director for the Community Power Network, a network of groups promoting renewable energy.

They include co-ops in Bowie, Takoma Park and Hyattsville. The largest in Maryland was a co-op last year at the University of Maryland, College Park that drew about 150 people, about a third of whom signed up for solar panels with the selected contractor, he said.

The solar co-op that includes Parker was launched in December by Retrofit Baltimore, a project part of the nonprofit Civic Works that helps residents make their homes more energy efficient. Sign-up for the co-op lasts until April 22, or Earth Day.

Eli Allen, the director of Retrofit Baltimore, said the co-op has attracted about 65 members, and organizers have hosted information meetings in the Federal Hill, Patterson Park, Charles Village and Lauraville-Hamilton neighborhoods. Though the co-op is open to residents of the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, most of the interest has been among Southeast Baltimore residents, he said.

The group selected Solar Energy World as its contractor after getting three bids, Allen said. Members of the co-op can save about 25 percent, driving the cost of a 3-kilowatt system appropriate for a Baltimore rowhouse down to about $4,000 after various state and federal incentives. They will sign contracts with Solar Energy World individually and are under no obligation to sign.

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