Solarize Fairbanks Electrifies Homes Through Pandemic

Jul 30, 2020

A crew from Renewable Energy Systems installs photovoltaic panels on the roof of Todd Paris' home in the Steele Creek neighborhood for the Solarize Fairbanks Campaign,
Credit Todd Paris

A volunteer neighborhood campaign has picked up more than 250 households in the Fairbanks area interested in a bulk-buy for solar installation. “Solarize Fairbanks” is helping homeowners and businesses take advantage of discounts and tax credits. The project deadline is extended until August 15 to have solar installed in 2020. The industry seems to be pandemic-proof, and the campaign has surprised even the people coordinating it.

Homeowner Todd Paris says he found out about the campaign almost by accident.

“This spring, just surfing Facebook one day I saw that a friend had posted ‘Solarize Fairbanks’ neighborhood meeting.”

So, he and his family attended the online meeting, and realized it gave them answers they were waiting for.

Todd: We’ve been interested in adding solar panels for years, just as a way to minimize our carbon footprint, cut our electric bill and increase the energy efficiency of our home and all those stock reasons.”

He says the presentations at the meetings explained that neighbors could come together as a block to get discounts on the installation, and free electricity during Alaska’s sunniest months.

“So we did the next thing, got an estimate, and the estimate came back pretty appealing.”

Todd Paris got his system of 14 photovoltaic panels installed by Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, of Fairbanks. RES was the winner of the bid for the combined households who joined the campaign in the Steele Creek neighborhood.

Eddie Davidson of RES has had a steadily growing business in Fairbanks for the last six years, and while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things a little in the spring, his business has remained flat compared to last year. He says people want to reduce their electric bills.

“The average person’s going to pay $25,000-$30,000 for power over the next ten years. You’re going to pay that anyway, so why not put it into solar and add value to your home and then six months out of the year, you have no power bills.”

Davidson says he bid to do 20 installations in Steele Creek, and was able to give everyone a discount.

“25% savings was what that turned out to be, when you group up and go with a Solarize project like that.”

“Not in our wildest dreams did we expect the price of solar to come down so much through this campaign.”

That’s Jamie Hansen, a consultant with Information Insights, a local research firm.

She has been active in coordinating Solarize Fairbanks, by hosting neighborhood meetings to educate people about the technology and the savings. Since last fall, more than 250 people signed up to join one of four groups: the Richardson Highway Corridor for North Pole and Salcha, Ester, Goldstream Valley and Steele Creek, including the Gilmore Trail Area.

But the COVID-19 pandemic caused a few people to hit “pause.”

“We had been organizing a Solarize area along College Road, with a really heavily intentional focus on businesses there. And businesses were hit so hard.”

But 65 participants are able to stay with the campaign and signed contracts to take advantage of bulk discounts, which vary depending on how many folks are involved.

Another incentive is a 26 percent federal tax credit for 2020. Between the installer discounts and the tax credit, Hansen says prices to install solar through the campaign are running about $3 per watt.

“It’s getting close to cutting 40-50% off 2019 prices in Fairbanks for solar.”

She says there is an August 1st deadline to get people to sign up with Solarize Fairbanks in order to beat the snow.

The Alaska Center for Energy and Power has written up an analysis of the campaign, saying it is a better investment than the stock market. This first year of the Fairbanks campaign follows Solarize Anchorage, which is in its fourth year.

Homeowners Bob and Sharon Baker have just finished their installation on Moose Mountain Road, and are waiting for Golden Valley Electric Association to hook up a new meter. Bob explains his motivation to join in the Solarize campaign.

“Probably mostly finance reasons, between the 15% discount from the installer here in Fairbanks, and the feds giving, I think, 26% this year, it was now or never to get it done, and we’ve been wanting to, and this was the perfect excuse.”

Baker says he thinks it will take about eight and a half years to pay himself and Sharon back for the money they spent.

“Our system is a 5KW-producing system. We had to put out about $15,000, and we’ll get back probably about $5,500. So if you’re going to do it, this is, I think, for Fairbanks, the time to do it.”

The federal tax credit goes down next year to 22 percent, then disappears the following year, altogether.

Electricity generation is measured in Kilowatts. The 260+ homes and businesses interested in participating, and 65 have signed contracts to receive a total of 380 kW this summer.