People teaming up to get deals on solar panels through co-op

- Scott Phillips’ gifts came a bit early this year.  “I woke up this morning like Christmas! It's like Christmas for adults,” Phillips told FOX 35 as he watched workers install 40 solar panels on the roof of his Lake Nona home. 
Phillips hopes investing in the solar system will save his family of four a lot of money.  He didn’t think installation day would ever come.  "I thought it was out of reach. Pricing, it was just too expensive,” Phillips said. 

But a few months ago, he met Mary Dipboye. She co-founded Central Florida Solar Advocates. “Less money and less work.  That's what we offer homeowners,” Dipboye said. 

Just as the solar panels help harness the power of the sun, Dipboye’s grassroots group helps harness the buying power of a group of homeowners by forming co-ops that make the cost of purchasing and installing solar panels a lot more affordable.  “So far, we've had 35 homeowners sign up, sign the contract, pay the deposit.  We have another 20 that are actively looking at bids,” Dipboye said.

Phillips is one of the homeowners who signed up.  "Joining the co-op, it was about $15,000 less than what originally I thought it would be," he said.  Eventually, Phillips hopes to eliminate his need for electricity altogether. 

Phillips can look to fellow Lake Nona resident Allen Eschette to begin to get an idea about how drastically he’ll cut his utility bills.  In the past year, Eshette has drastically reduced the amount of money he pays each month to power company OUC. Eschette said he used to pay OUC as much as $200 a month for electricity water, sewer and trash.  Now, his average monthly bill is $15 for the same services. 

During some months, the solar system eliminates Eschette’s need to purchase electricity.  Additionally, OUC pays customers 5 cents for every kilowatt hour of solar electricity they generate.  So, sometimes Eschette ends up with a credit.  "In fact, for about six months out of year I don't pay anything to OUC,” he said. 

Those are the months that Phillips is waiting for.  "The really exciting part will be when I get my first bill.  And see that I don't owe any money!” he said.  

There is an upfront cost for installing solar panels.  Homeowners interested in joining a solar power co-op can reach out to Central Florida Solar Advocates online.  The organization currently has a co-op open to homeowners who live anywhere in Orange County.  Dipboye hopes the organization will grow enough to help homeowners all over the state. 

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