Over a year ago I created the Co-op. I had some basic ideas of what I wanted to accomplish and some marketing ideas that could get me started. The first thing I started working on was the website and developing relationships with people in our local government. I developed a request for proposal so that I could effectively evaluate and qualify installers. I selected a board of qualified Anthem residents with solar knowledge to evaluate and qualify a group of solar installers. During the evaluation process, we all realized it was not a one size fits all scenario. We found there were a number of qualified installers that had strengths in different areas. The installers were evaluated on the following criteria, number of installs, install process, products used, warranty of workmanship, financing, product warranties, pricing, references, licenses, reputation, BBB rating and a number of other things. I figured out a scoring system and we ended up choosing four installers that scored the highest. Before the Co-op was launched to the public, I created some press releases to help create some awareness and get the ball rolling. In the first 5 months, there were over 100 installs. I don’t have an exact count of where we are at today, but I expect the number to be around 200 homes or more.
It hasn’t all been peaches and cream we’ve had three major obstacles we have tried to overcome. Times are tough and getting financing is difficult. I think when the property values do start to increase, solar will be an option for everyone that lives here. Until then not everyone will be able to get financing. What has helped is a number of our partners are working with SunCap Financial. This has enabled more people to participate and go solar. The second obstacle is the APS utility rebate. Having a rebate available is great; the way it is managed is ridiculous. In some ways, it’s a deterrent because people may be waiting for the rebate amount to go back to higher levels. The bottom line here is it would help to fix the amount somewhere between US$2 to US$3 dollars a watt and leave it there. The third obstacle is marketing; I have attempted to pull this off with a very limited marketing budget. Until I can get the community government on board and a number of businesses on board helping to promote the Co-op’s initiatives word of mouth and networking will have to carry us through our startup period. One thing that has happened that was unexpected was the buzz one solar install can create. In a number of areas around Anthem solar has developed in clusters. Once one home in the neighborhood goes solar, then the neighbor next to him and so on. In many ways, it takes on a life of its own.
The main reason for starting all of this was that I ultimately thought I could have positive effect on everyone’s pocketbook in Anthem. Energy costs can have a significant impact on a typical family’s budget. In Anthem Arizona, the average family (2.77 people) spends around US$5,000 year per household for just gasoline and electricity. If you add in water and natural gas it could easily be another US$3,000 a year. When times get tough and they have, energy expenses take up a larger part of the family budget. When those energy expenses increase dramatically as they will with gas prices going up to US$4.00 last summer, many of us feel the pain. Not only does the cost of gasoline go up but so does just about everything else. Everything you buy in a store got there somehow; truck, train, boat or plane or all of the above. If this weren’t bad enough, the Anthem water rates have increased by 300% in a 3-year time span. My water bill went from US$65 a month in 2007 to US$195 per month in 2010. All that said, very few people plan for this and even fewer people have any kind of energy strategy to hedge against increasing energy costs. That’s where the Anthem Energy Co-op fits in. We have been focused on creating energy strategies and initiatives that will drive down energy costs for every household in Anthem and increase disposable income in the community. We do this by organizing and leveraging the size of the community to create energy efficiency and solar programs. We have also negotiated special pricing for electric/hybrid vehicles. Renewable energy products offer us an opportunity now because they have come down in price. What helps create even more awareness is that fossil fuel products continue to increase in price and will continue to go up till supplies are depleted. Even with a micro community of 38,000 people, we can dramatically improve our economy by channeling money away from utilities and big oil companies back into our community. As you will soon see there is an opportunity to inject over a billion dollars back into Anthem. Up until now, most of my marketing has been through community articles in local magazines and the community website. A year ago, I made an attempt to get our community government on board to help promote the co-op with some of their vast resources. I connected with the community council, the board of directors and our community utility board. I think they were all genuinely interested in what I had to say but were handcuffed by their own rules and possibly a lawyer or two. It’s critical to get all of the stakeholders on board but that’s easier said than done. While it may seem obvious that these are good ideas, not everyone gets it at first. So perseverance is critical. Creating the initiatives was the easy part, getting the stakeholders to help drive them is where all of the heavy lifting takes place. I have found that our community government is much like our U.S. government, they don’t want to play favorites and they don’t want to pick winners and losers. What everyone needs to realize is the times have changed and that status quo needs to change as well. If there were ever a time to think out of the cube now is the time. Just recently, I’ve started to re-engage with our community government and propose new ideas; I hope to have better results this time around. Having our community government’s support on this and access to some of their resources would save me a huge amount of time and money. If for some reason, I can’t get them to help I will have to rely on the business community to help me drive these initiatives. So far, most of the businesses have been very receptive but very little action. As long as I can get them to understand that a good portion of that disposable income will filter on down to them, I should be able to get them to help promote my initiatives it will just take time.
Let me give you the low down my two simple common sense initiatives; ‘Energize Anthem’ and ‘Network Anthem’.
Energize Anthem Initiative
The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day at an average of US$87 a barrel. We import 14 million of those barrels every day. That’s roughly 444 billion dollars a year that we spend on foreign oil. What happens when the price of oil goes to US$150 or US$200 a barrel? Then billions turn into trillions. This is unsustainable; we are putting our whole economy at risk by being dependent on this much foreign oil. As consumers, we are the enablers. It’s critical that we reduce our demand for oil. To create change it has to start with everyone in Anthem.
For us to do our part in Anthem is we all need to figure out how to reduce our gasoline consumption by at least 2/3rds. You can do that by buying an electric or hybrid vehicle.
-Leveraging the size of Anthem to get fleet pricing on Nissan Leaf, available to all Co-op members.
-Tax credits can reduce the cost of an electric vehicle by as much as US$7,500.
-Electric vehicles are also eligible for an HOV lane permit which will allow you the opportunity to drive in the HOV lane at any time of day. Consider an electric car first. If that won’t work, consider a hybrid.
-1 electric car will save the average family 476 gallons per year (Nissan leaf 8 year 100,000 mile warranty on batteries, range 73-100 miles)
@ US$4 gal that’s US$1900 year x 8yrs = US$15,200
@ US$5 gal that’s US$2380 year x 8yrs = US$19,040
Average family pays APS US$2,000 per year which is increasing at an average of 5% annually. Over the course of 30 years, you will give APS US$132,000 for electrical expenses with no possible return on investment (5% yearly increase included). As an added bonus, they will find new ways to add to their already long list of fees, it’s 17 and counting.
1. Implement the Co-op’s APS Energy Strategy until you go solar─Change APS (electric utility company) rate plans from a 9 a.m.-9 p.m. to a 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Super cool house in the off-peak hours during the summertime and heat your house in the off-peak hours in the winter time. Last year I did this and saved US$1,100 on my electric bill and used about the same amount of power. My on-peak usage went from 33% down to 6% which is what enabled me to save so much money.
2. Invest in a solar system, we’ll say US$15,000, for an example, the system is paid off in approximately 6.5 years. By doing this, you save US$117,000 over 30 years (80% = US$93,000). Now if you were to invest your savings what would the US$15,000 solar system really worth to you?
Network Anthem Initiative
The goal here is to develop BI-DIRECTIONAL interactive network that encompasses every resident, business, public and private organization in Anthem. This network will connect the entire Anthem community. Everyone will be able to network, promote, announce, organize, discuss ideas and poll/vote to a network of 30,000-40,000 people in Anthem. The Anthem Energy Co-op has created such a group on LinkedIn and it’s called ‘The Anthem Voice’. (http://www.linkedin.com) LinkedIn is free and so is membership to the group. If we can get to the point where we have 40,000 people tied into one network, there is no telling what we will be able to achieve. Ultimately, I believe this network will become a catalyst for future change and a fundamental building block for our community’s future.
Benefits of These Initiatives
-From an economic standpoint alone, we have an opportunity to channel well over a billion dollars back into our community and away from monopolistic utilities & big oil companies. This could significantly improve the overall financial stability of the entire community.
-A new marketing opportunity would be created; we would have a new way of pulling in prospective businesses and home buyers.
-Every member would have the ability to network and broadcast a message with anyone of the 30,000-40,000 people that live here (very powerful).
-By organizing and coming together as a large group, we will be able to leverage that power to get discounts on a variety of products and services.
-Small businesses in Anthem will be able to promote their products using this network for free.
-Financially, disposable income in the community would increase by as much as 60-70 million dollars per year.
-Spending at local businesses and restaurants would increase.
-Property values increase not taxable property values.
-Jobs would be created.
-If were successful, we will create a blueprint for communities all over the world to follow.
-Ultimately, we create a premier community that home buyers and business owners would gravitate towards.
On the surface, this is a story about energy, but from my perspective, it goes so much deeper than that. It’s about bringing a community together, building it up and doing something that hasn’t been done before. I know that if we can do that, we will be on our way to achieving our goal of being the largest most energy efficient solar community in the world. I truly believe this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the journey holds many other amazing opportunities in store for Anthem.
Troy Huntley is Managing Director/Founder of Anthem Energy Co-op (http://www.anthemenergycoop.com/).