Co-op brings solar panels to low-income homes in Allegheny County

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

For Terry Fuller, a resident of Hazelwood, solar power has long been a dream “just out of reach.” Fuller has received estimates for solar panels, but they’ve all been too expensive. After getting a new roof, she’s excited for a new solar opportunity. 

“There was no way I could afford solar,” Fuller said. “It was just out of reach for me. So solar co-op made it possible.”

Solar United Neighbors, a solar co-op company, has started a co-op for all of Allegheny County. This co-op brings together community members interested in placing solar panels on their roof and negotiates a group price for solar panels. Hazelwood Initiative, a community development group in Hazelwood, partnered with Solar United to provide low-income homeowners with free solar panels. 

The co-op was launched in February, and anyone who lives in Allegheny County is eligible to register. The last day to register as a member of the co-op is July 31.

Fuller said she first heard about the co-op through a Hazelwood Initiative meeting and from her friends who signed up. After hearing about it several times and thinking it over, she decided to sign up as well.

The co-op currently has 203 members who have demonstrated interest in buying solar panels. According to Seth Newmeyer from Solar United Neighbors, anywhere from 30% to 80% of people who register go on to buy solar panels.

“I’m excited about it, especially with the Hazelwood initiative, it will almost certainly translate into lots of people installing solar panels,” Newmeyer said. “Just generally it seems like people in Pittsburgh are more open to installing.”

According to Newmeyer, the initiative can help cut down on capital costs. While solar panels help residents save money on their electricity bills, Newmeyer said they have a large upfront cost, preventing many low-income families from accessing them.

“I’m excited the Hazelwood initiative is providing the funding for subsidizing solar panels for low-income housing,” Newmeyer said. “It is a highish upfront investment and it’s kind of hard to get the cash on hand for, so it’s nice to make sure that other people can install solar panels, even if you know that’s a too-high barrier for them to enter.”

According to Tiffany Taulton, the director of outreach and sustainability for the Hazelwood initiative, the co-op will bring development into Hazelwood and the rest of Allegheny County and make the region more sustainable. 

“We’ve been working for the past two years to try to think of an innovative way that we could get solar into this very low-income community, this environmental justice community,” Taulton said. “And so it was really important to think of ways that we could bring more justice into the development here in Hazelwood.”

Hazelwood is already a sustainably minded neighborhood and is home to Hazelwood Green, one of the largest solar farms in the nation. Taulton said she wants to bring solar power to the residents of the neighborhood.

“We wanted to have something parallel, where we would also have some solar in the neighborhood,” Taulton said. 

According to Newmeyer, local solar firm EIS Solar has been selected for the project.

So far, Fuller has had an easy time with the process, and Solar United provided her help.

“If I couldn’t do something, they made a way for me to get the help I needed so I haven’t had any issues,” Fuller said. “I haven’t had any struggles. It’s just been an easy process.”

Taulton said she is excited to help develop a more sustainable community in a way that benefits them financially as well. She said people can donate to the initiative on the website. 

“I’m just really excited to bring something to my community that I know is going to benefit their health,” Taulton said. “And it’s going to help them stay in their home by making their energy costs lower and making their home’s equity increase so that they can increase their generational wealth and stay here as a developer to develop.”

A previous version of this story noted that the search for a solar panel company was still underway, however EIS Solar was already selected for the project. This story has been updated to reflect the correct information. The Pitt News regrets this error.