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June 01, 2012

Up on the Roof

Let me start with a confession: I'm the executive director of the country's largest environmental organization, and I don't have solar panels on my roof. Now wait a minute. Before you judge, I do have a few justifications. We have young children and funds have been tight... we had been planning to move for a while... we were saving up to buy a house, etc. All valid reasons, if I say so myself. But still, no solar.

Until now.  

Last year, the Sierra Club ran a pilot program in California to spread the news to our members and supporters that there's never been a better time to add solar panels to their roofs. It was a big success, so now we're expanding to seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York. If you're a homeowner in one of those states and decide to buy or lease a rooftop solar system through our partner, Sungevity, you can power your life with sunshine for as little as $0 down.

That's not bad, but it's far from the only reason you should check out the program. As I wrote last year, solar is as green as it gets, and with the price of solar panels dropping dramatically, there's never been a more affordable time to install a system. You can help displace dirty coal, or fracked natural gas, or even nuclear power, one home at a time. You'll also lock in an affordable rate and protect yourself against soaring electricity rates in the years ahead.

The first step is to do what I did: Request a solar iQuote. By using a satellite view of your roof like the one in Google maps, Sungevity can make a preliminary estimate of your system's size. According to my iQuote, a solar system on our family's roof would eliminate about 89,000 lbs. of carbon pollution during my lease, which is the equivalent of planting 1,037 trees (or of not driving 101,915 miles).

After you supply Sungevity with data on your utility bills, they can also give you an idea of exactly how much you can expect to save (based on the plan you choose). On average, Sungevity customers save about 15 percent on their electric bills.

Generally, people who can afford to purchase a system outright will get the biggest overall savings, but there are advantages to leasing a system besides not having to write a big check (solar panels have gotten a lot cheaper recently, but they're still a significant investment for most homeowners). One is peace of mind: Sungevity is responsible for the maintenance of leased systems, and they continuously monitor performance to make sure everything's working right. And when your lease is finished, you can always opt to purchase the system at fair market value. For more on how solar leases work, see our website.

There are plenty of great solar installers across the country. The Sierra Club chose to partner with Sungevity because we support their vision to grow a grassroots movement of clean-energy homeowners. If you choose Sungevity, you'll receive a $750 cash gift card -- and Sungevity will contribute an additional $750 to the Sierra Club. Not bad. The best reason to start harvesting all that free sunshine that's falling on your rooftop, though, is that each kilowatt hour of solar you generate either replaces electricity that might otherwise come from burning a fossil fuel like coal or natural gas. And if you charge an EV or plug-in hybrid vehicle at home, you're displacing yet another dirty fossil fuel -- oil (and saving still more money).

Getting an iQuote doesn't cost anything and takes only a few minutes. If you're a homeowner like me who's been itching to go solar, give it a try -- and let me know how it goes.

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Michael Brune

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