Solar project

Halifax Solar Co-op celebrated its success in spreading the word about solar power during a gathering at Oak Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Cluster Springs on Saturday. Those recognized by Virginia Sun Program Manager Aaron Sutch (front row, far right) for their efforts in promoting the use of solar energy include (front row, from left) Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, Hodges Throckmorton, Pickett Craddock and former Halifax Events Coordinator Rebecca Ramey; back row (from left) are Convert Solar installer Chad Wilkins and G.C. Ratliff.

Seeds first planted at a meeting in Halifax Town Hall approximately one year ago have germinated into seven solar power installations in Halifax County as part of the Halifax Solar Co-Op, which celebrated its success at Oak Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Cluster Springs last Saturday.

Approximately 50 persons attended an information session at Halifax Town Hall that evening, according to Virginia SUN Program Director Aaron Sutch and installer Chad Wilkins, who gave a tour of Oak Grove’s 3.9-kilowatt solar array mounted in the field behind its main building on Saturday.

Seven solar arrays have been installed as part of Halifax Solar Co-Op, according to Sutch, who added several more may be on the way outside the Halifax Solar Co-Op.

“The goal is to keep growing it and planting seeds with people who want to go solar, as well as their neighbors,” said Sutch.

“Co-ops arise organically, so if someone wants to start one, and there’s some critical mass, we’d be willing to do it.”

Think of a co-op as a loosely based group, explained Sutch.

“There is no real organization, just a group of people working to find out about solar together.

“From start to finish, co-ops last about nine to 10 months.

“We have a launch phase where in the first three or four months we try to get people to join, choose the installer for the next four or five months, and in the last remaining months we focus on installation.”

Virginia SUN is a non-profit group, and one of many such solar advocacy groups, Sutch added.

A connection between Oak Grove owner Pickett Craddock and his boss while Craddock lived and worked in Northern Virginia drew Sutch to Halifax County.

“There was a connection between Pickett and my boss,” explained Sutch.

“Her sons both attended her (Craddock’s) pre-school.”

Sutch looked upon Halifax County as a prime opportunity to begin a co-op.

“It’s a rural county, and we had Pickett as our on-the-ground partner,” said Sutch.

“We saw it as an opportunity where we could do a co-op that could reach a rural population.”

The bed and breakfast owners were the first in the county to partner with North Carolina-based Southern Energy Management to install the solar array that features 16 Bosch 245-watt modules.

Sutch termed the coop as a success.

“We had seven people, most likely more going solar, but more importantly we have people like Hodges (Throckmorton) and Glen (Ratliff) who are educating people and sending the message that it’s a simple way to empower your energy future.

A group of business owners and residents in Halifax County formed the solar co-op to go solar together and get a discount.

The group selected a single contractor to install systems on all of the homes, own their own systems and have signed their own contracts with their chosen installers.

By going solar as a group, members saved 30 percent off the cost of a solar system, with the group sponsored by Oak Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

“We have people that are building the greater movement in Virginia that’s starting to value solar energy,” said Sutch.

“Solar is a game changer just like the Internet, in the 90s, and as the technology gets better, it keeps getting cheaper.

“It’s going to change the way we harness energy.”

Co-ops are completely voluntary, Sutch noted.

“We facilitate the group, but it’s mostly driven by local communities.

“At the end of it, we had 50 people with really good properties go solar.

“We put out a RFP (request for proposal) and formed a selection committee to choose a selected installer, and they chose Chad Wilkins of Convert.”

By November of 2015, Convert had done seven installs, and for a rural group of 50, that was an impressive number, Sutch pointed out.

“We have started the conversation here in Halifax County about solar,” Sutch concluded.

Sutch cited a number of people he called “solar ambassadors” for their help in spreading the word about solar power in Halifax County, including Ratliff and Throckmorton, the first to install solar arrays on their properties.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.