WINCHESTER — About 60 people attended an information session Tuesday night to learn more about an effort to form a cooperative for local homeowners interested in installing solar panels.

Those who attended the meeting at Brewbaker’s Restaurant downtown are seeking lower utility bills, an environmentally friendly form of energy and more autonomy from the utility companies.

“There’s something emotionally satisfying to think the power company might have to buy energy from me,” said Lewis Costello, who lives on a 5-acre homestead in Frederick County with his wife, Liz. “To me it just makes economic sense.”

VA Sun — part of the Community Power Network, a league of cooperatives operating in five states and Washington, D.C. — has organized more than 20 solar co-ops around Virginia since 2012, resulting in solar installations on about 500 homes in the state, according to its website.

VA Sun is currently working to form the Upper Piedmont Solar Co-op for residents of Winchester and Frederick, Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, Warren and Rappahannock counties. The idea is to get homeowners and landlords to band together as a group and put out a request for proposals to get group rate offers from local or regional solar installers.

Aaron Such, program director for VA Sun, told people at Wednesday’s meeting that they can expect a nine- to 13-year return on investment from a solar energy system guaranteed to last 25 years. That return comes from lower utility bills (from using solar as a supplement and power pumped back into the grid when more energy is produced than the house is using).

“These are turn-key systems,” Such said. An initial investment from a homeowner will range from $9,000 to $20,000, depending on the size of the home and the amount of energy production desired.

People who are going to need a new roof in the next decade may want to wait until they get a new roof to go solar, Such said. Not that panels degrade the roof — they actually protect it and extend its life — but when a roof needs to be replaced an installer has to take the panels off and then re-install them, which is costly.

Such said Virginia is a restrictive state when it comes to solar, because of political donations from utility companies.

“The utilities like to be the only game in town.”

In Maryland and Washington, D.C., a person who cannot afford to purchase a solar system can opt to buy solar power, which is illegal in Virginia, Such said.

“I can’t look at people with a straight face and say why.”

Similarly, community solar projects are heavily restricted, and there is “an arbitrary 1-percent cap on net metering,” which is a billing mechanism that credits solar system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.

But Such said there is bipartisan support for solar production in state government and the future is looking bright. As energy from fossil fuels becomes more expensive (Dominion Power’s rates have increased 30 percent in 10 years) the demand for solar will increase. “It’s really a high-quality source of fuel.”

Will Cottingham, a sales representative for the Northern Virginia-based solar installer Independent Solar Solutions, said on Tuesday there are equity perks to going solar, as an installed system raises the value of a home. Plus, the federal government offers a solar tax credit, returning 30 percent of the cost of the system in the next tax cycle.

“It’s not as big an investment as people think,” Cottingham said.


People interested in the co-op can visit

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at

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