Trico Electric Cooperative is offering a program for people who want solar electricity but do not want solar panels on their roofs.
The company is building a "sun farm" - an installation of about 840 solar panels beside its Marana office at 8600 W. Tangerine Road - from which Trico customers may sign up to buy electricity.
With hopes of having the sun farm in service this summer, Trico began accepting applications last week from customers who are interested.
The project is being funded by a 21st Century Energy Grant of nearly $1 million from the Arizona Department of Commerce, meaning none of it is coming from the renewable energy standard tariff that is charged on electric bills, said Trico spokeswoman Romi Carrell Wittman.
Trico will allow people to buy the output of a quarter-panel, half-panel or full solar panel for $230, $460 or $920, respectively. Each full panel will produce 230 watts of power and offer 36 kilowatt hours' worth of credit to customers' electric bills, she said. So if you purchase a full panel, you'll get about a $5 credit per month as long as you're using the electricity the panel generates.
"A lot of people are interested in solar, but they can't for whatever reason put it on their house," Wittman said. Sometimes it's because they rent, and sometimes the house is just pointed in a bad direction for adding solar.
With such a small credit to show for the initial investment, she said, "If you're going to do it, you should plan to be there a little while."
Some people are doing it because they feel solar is the right thing to do, aside from economics, she said.
This isn't the first such arrangement in the region. Tucson Electric Power Co. finished installing a 1.6-megawatt solar farm array at the end of last year on Tucson's southeast side, said TEP spokesman Joe Salkowski.
TEP runs its program a bit differently, in that customers may purchase blocks of 150 kilowatt hours to replace an equivalent amount of energy on their electric bills, adding about $3 to the monthly bill, Salkowski said.
"But you do lock in the rate that you're paying for that solar power for 20 years," he said.
You can subscribe to just one 150-kilowatt-hour block, or as many as you need to cover your average monthly use.
Salkowski said he bought seven blocks for his home, adding $21 to his monthly bill and powering his entire home by solar energy without installing anything at the house.
Of 1,600 blocks the company made available, more than 1,000 of them have subscribers, he said.
"We're expecting big things from this program. It's been very popular so far," Salkowski said.
Wittman said she suspects the Trico program will similarly take off. The company had been receiving requests for such an arrangement for quite some time, she said.
Trico received four completed applications the first day they were available, and "We've had tons of phone calls," she said.
Trico customer Laurie Larwood said she applied for five panels the first day she could apply online. That would power a portion of her home, from which she and a partner also run a business.
"It does get us off reliance on coal and gas, to some extent at least, and that's always worth something," she said.
She questions how "green" solar panels are, once you consider the amount of energy that goes into manufacturing them, "but it's a start."
She estimates she'll begin to see a savings on her solar-panel investment in about 15 years, which she feels is much better odds than the low interest paid by banks or the higher risk posed by playing the stock market.
"As kilowatts get more expensive, I'm being paid back more quickly," Larwood said. "I like that idea."
Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at email@example.com or 807-8464.