Energy Co-op of Vermont: Oil Co-op Goes Solar

By John Quinney

*Originally published in City Market’s April 2012 Onion Skin

To celebrate the Co-operative Decade, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association is profiling other regional co-operative businesses that are building a thriving regional economy.  Energy Co-op of VT logo.png

The Energy Co-op of Vermont delivers heating oil and wood pellets to 2,100 members, primarily in Chittenden County. We also repair, maintain and replace furnaces, boilers and pellet stoves. We encourage our members to use less oil by getting energy audits and following up with home energy improvements.

Four years ago, heating oil prices reached $5/gallon and we noticed that many of our members were getting fewer oil deliveries.  Turns out, quite a few of our members had purchased pellet stoves and were burning wood pellets to heat their homes. We decided to get into the pellets business and now deliver about 1,100 tons of wood pellets a year (replacing ~130,000 gallons of heating oil) made by Vermont Wood Pellets in North Clarendon, Vermont.

Now, heating oil prices are $4/gallon and we’ve responded by launching Co-op Solar, our solar hot water program, open to all homeowners and designed to make solar hot water installations easy and affordable.  Going solar used to be difficult: you had to research technologies, identify an installer, and file the permits yourself. Now it’s easy. The Energy Co-op of Vermont has done the hard work–picked the best equipment, chosen attractive financing, selected top notch installers, and we take care of the paperwork work–so our members don’t have to.

Our Co-op provides the best value for solar hot water. We negotiated volume discounts with our suppliers (Sunward Systems, Vergennes) and pass the savings on to our members. Our solar hot water systems qualify for a 30% federal tax credit and a $900 state rebate check. And to make Co-op Solar more accessible, we’ve arranged for financing to be provided by another cooperative, VSECU. Our installers are certified by Renewable Energy Vermont. They take care of all the permits, and complete most installations in less than a day.

A typical Vermont family of four spends about $600 a year on oil, propane or electricity for domestic hot water – and energy costs keep going up. But solar energy is free, and Co-op Solar will save a four-person Vermont family upwards of $20,000 over the next 20 years. Homeowners who finance their solar hot water heater over 15 years will save more than they spend from year one.

It’s easy to use the sun to heat your hot water. Our solar panels go on your roof or in your yard. If your roof faces within 45º of south and receives 6 hours or more of sunlight a day, that’s where your panels should go, and installation is quick and easy.  Ground-mounted panels also work well, and come with an added benefit, since they often do double duty as a garden shed or storage area. All systems come with a ten-year warranty.

Help us get the word out: we’re counting on co-ops who share our interest in promoting both renewable energy and other regional co-ops, so tell your friends and neighbors about Co-op Solar.

For a free, no-risk site assessment to see if your home is suitable for solar, sign-up at the Co-op Solar website.  We are scheduling Co-op Solar presentations at local events, community gatherings and neighborhood parties. Please contact us about a Co-op Solar presentation in your community.

John Quinney is General Manager for the Energy Co-op of Vermont,  This article was originally published in City Market’s April 2012 Onion Skin.

(To download a customizeable version of this article for use in your food co-op’s newsletter, e-news or website, click here: Energy Co-op of VT IYC Profile.doc)