University of Arizona employees who have been considering solar energy panels or solar water heaters for their homes have an opportunity to be part of a solar energy discount program, but they need to register online by May 31 in order to get in on it.
It's called Solar Benefits Tucson (PDF), a program administered by an organization called ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA, which is made up of more than 1,220 local government members interested in sustainability. The city of Tucson is a member of ICLEI.
Solar Benefits held a handful of meetings at the UA and University of Arizona Medical Center - University Campus in February and March and also met with employees from the city of Tucson, Pima County and Ventana Medical Systems, all of which are part of the collective of agencies invited to participate in the program.
(The PowerPoint presentation from the initial UA meeting Feb. 21 can be downloaded here (PDF).)
At those meetings, presenters said there are many obstacles to acquiring solar, including a high up-front cost, customer confusion and a complex process of meeting with different providers and getting estimates of what a project might cost.
To start, costs are controlled by the sheer buying power of a large group of people who want the same product or service in a relatively short space of time, he said.
Every employer that is part of the collective chose a representative to sit on a selection committee to review and score proposals submitted by 10 solar providers through a bid process, Abraham added.
The committee vetted providers on experience, resources, technology, pricing, lease options, warranties and customer service.
"Our greatest concern is making sure that the process is transparent and legitimate, so the employees feel confident that there's no favoritism and we're really operating in the best interest of the employees," Abraham said.
The committee decided to grant the contract to Tucson-based Technicians for Sustainability, the same company that installed solar panels at the UA Visitor Center and at Fourth Avenue's Antigone Books, Brooklyn Pizza Co. and Sky Bar.
Jessie Denver, a program manager for Solar Benefits Tucson, said TFS has a great reputation and has been in the solar industry a long time.
TFS is offering "great prices for purchase" of solar technology in addition to a lease option, which in recent months has become popular among Arizonans, Denver said.
"A lot of people actually prefer that option, because during the term of the (lease) agreement, usually 20 years, they (the solar company) take care of everything," she said. That includes repairs and maintenance as the system ages.
So far, more than 500 people have signed up for the program, the bulk of them from the University, Denver said.
Interested employees have until May 31 to sign up for the program online, with no obligation, Denver said.
Signing up puts the interested employee on an email list. The first message the employee receives will be a request for the employee's last 12 months of energy usage. Denver said that information will be sent to Technicians for Sustainability, which will schedule a site consultation and give a price quote – still at no obligation.
"We've been able to pool the buying power, the vetting process has been done for them by their peers, and they need to sign up so they can get a quote and see if solar is right for them," she said.