Tired of high-priced energy bills and ready to make the switch to a more efficient energy source, a crowd “greater than expected” turned out Sunday afternoon taking the first step to see what they need to do to join the Halifax County Solar Co-op.

The crowd showed up for an information session held at the Town Hall in Halifax.

Living many years in Germany, Portugal and other areas in Europe, Philippa Deramus is familiar with using geothermal, solar and wind energy sources.

She attended the meeting Sunday proudly declaring she is a “full believer in renewable resources.”

Now living in a farmhouse in Clover, she came interested to see how Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA SUN) would allow her to use solar energy here.

Others in attendance told Virginia SUN Program Director Aaron Sutch they hated their electricity provider or wanted to go off the grid.

But before Sutch went into detail about the process of going solar, and the possible benefits of it, he turned over the floor to Pickett Craddock of Oak Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

The bed and breakfast owners were the first in the county to partner with North Carolina based Southern Energy Management to install a 3.9-kilowatt solar array that features 16 Bosch 245-watt modules mounted in the field behind Oak Grove’s main building.

Wanting to be part of the future rather than part of the past, Craddock, and her husband, Mike Doan, decided to move forward by going solar.

The bed and breakfast did not have a heating system, and had once used a windmill for its source of power. After speaking with two North Carolina based companies, they partnered with the Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act program to finance the project.

Now Craddock wants others to follow her lead.

To begin the process of going solar, Sutch encouraged the 50-plus attendees to sign up online to join the Halifax County Solar Co-op group.

This co-op will focus on Solar Polar Voltaic, “basically using the suns energy to produce energy,” rather than solar thermal.

Using panels to harness the sun’s photons to produce direct current electricity, a solar system is composed of a group of cells called the solar array, which is measured in the amount of watts it produces.

Most panels are “over-engineered,” so they are “very durable, and there are no moving parts.” He also said once installed they have little to no maintenance.

The panels have an expected life span of 30 years, and Sutch said most are warranted for 25 years.

Within the solar system, Sutch said there also is an inverter that produces direct current or “dv” that is converted into alternating current or “ac…. Which is what you use in your house.

“It’s a pretty common component in most electronics,” said Sutch.

Most residents expressed interest in knowing what happens at night or when there was a cloudy forecast.

With most systems being “grid tied systems” using the grid like a “giant battery,” at night the solar systems draw from the electric grid.

“It’s a very seamless transition,” said Sutch, who also said options exist for going completely off grid.

“You always have power,” Sutch continued. “During the day when your electricity is producing, you will have electricity. At night, it draws seamlessly from the grid. The issue is if the grid goes out. Unless they have a special inverter, you do not get power. If you want to have power when the grid goes out, battery back up is an option.”

To use the grid, there is a system of net metering that allows for the customer to be billed for the net amount of electricity used. Companies also use a system similar to “roll over minutes.”

“During a certain month, you produce more electricity than you use, you get a credit on your utility bill for a 1 to 1 ratio per kilowatt hour. Say the next month, you use more than what you produce. It will true out,” said Sutch.

He also said customers will be charged their normal rate for connecting to the grid for “distribution service.”

Continuing the discussion on the solar co-op process, Sutch moved the conversation to the next step, getting a roof review.

He said not every roof is good for solar, and customers have the option of using a ground-mounted system.

“If the roof is over 16 to 18 years old, you may look to re-doing your roof before going solar, and also make sure there is no major shading,” said Sutch.

The Virginia SUN program director also promoted ground-mounted systems as the better option, because it can be titled for maximum results. Most ground-mounted systems need not be more than 100 feet from the property.

Once the roofs have been reviewed, the co-op group of 20 to 30 will review bids from local installers. The co-op members form the selection committee themselves to review the bids to select a single installer to complete all of the projects.

The group will then meet with the chosen installer to get an individualized proposal for a solar system for each home. This proposal will reflect the group discount.

A contract will then be signed with the installer before installation.

There is the possibility of a bulk purchase discount, which is estimated to be 20 to 30 percent of the cost, Sutch said, providing example systems costs.

An initial upfront cost of up to $9,000 could be offset by a federal tax credit, which will be 30 percent of the system cost, annual electricity savings and annual Solar Renewable Electrical Certificate (SREC) income.

As part of his example, he said the total cost after one year could be $5,794.

Farms and businesses can take additional incentives including a 20 percent Federal Tax Credit for accelerated depreciation, and 25 percent USDA REAP grant, subject to availability and funding.

“With solar, I like to think of it as the value of solar is much more than the price. In essence, it’s very reasonable for us to look at pay back times. We are seeing pay back times anywhere from 10 to 12 years depending,” Sutch said.

“But what you are doing when you put solar on your roof is you have a generator that requires no fuel, has no moving parts, very little maintenance, and lasts for 30 years, and you basically sit and forget it. In essence you already have electricity rates that are increasing.

“Most important of all, you are starting to take control of your energy destiny,” he concluded.

To join the Halifax County Solar Co-op visit http://www.vasun.org/halifax-county-solar-co-op/ to sign up.

Ashley Hodge is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com