Tipmont REMC’s new program makes solar easy—and affordable

With the cost of solar panels more than 100 times lower than they were 35 years ago, interest is rising about as fast as costs are falling. Which led one of our co-ops, Tipmont REMC, to introduce a program that gives members a low-risk introduction to solar power.

“We get lots of calls from people who want to install their own solar power source but whose plans fall through because of funding,” said Tipmont’s Energy Management Supervisor Jason Monroe. “Because it has a lower price point, Community Solar will help them do that.”

The program, which opened August 6 and will be operating by October 10, gives members the chance to lease solar panels that have been installed in a solar field on Tipmont REMC property. Leasing a panel means that the member benefits by receiving bill credits equal to the amount of electricity generated by the leased panel. A member pays an upfront $1,250—or chooses to cover that fee in installments over as many as three years—and then is credited for solar power for 25 years or as long he or she stays in the house. If the member moves out of the area, his or her solar panel rights are transferable or can be sold back to the REMC.

“Our mission at Tipmont is to do the right thing for members,” said Communications Coordinator Sasha Clements. “The right thing here was figuring out how we could provide something that would take down barriers for members interested in solar. We handle all the operation and maintenance, and members who join the program don’t have to have panels in their yard or on their roof.”

To develop the program, which is a first in Indiana, the REMC worked with co-ops elsewhere, especially in Western and Northern states. One of the important points their research revealed was that the project had to involve the whole staff.

“We asked for volunteers from the staff, and almost everyone volunteered,” Monroe said. “We rotated people in so that everyone who wanted to learn could get a chance. Now they’re out in the field talking to people about the program. They’re invested in it. They believe in it.”

The initial costs for the program will be covered by the fees for leasing the panels, which means that only those who participate are supporting the program. The REMC was careful about keeping the program from having any kind of financial impact on its overall membership.

For its launch, the program offers 240 panels for lease. They are positioned on the property near a natural grassland that the REMC put in several years ago; a pathway is in the works, as is an educational tree grove—all in hopes that the REMC will be able to spread the word about sustainability while encouraging employees and the public to enjoy a stroll on the path.

“We hope our members see us as a leader—as a utility that goes out and really tries to do the right thing,” Monroe said. “This shows that we’re forward-thinking.”

“We’re going to keep looking for innovative solutions,” Clements said. “We’re offering a solar alternative that’s a good deal and is convenient. That’s important to us.”