Rio Blanco rancher Deirdre Macnab saw big results when shifting her farm to solar power earlier this year.

After an electric bill of $846 in January, she says she switched to solar, which dropped her electric bill to $46.

"We were looking for a way to manage costs," Macnab said.

Now, Macnab is a volunteer and helping organize new solar cooperatives through Solar United Neighbors. The organization launched in Colorado in January and hopes to open a Grand Junction chapter sometime this year.

Solar United Neighbors held an exploratory meeting in Grand Junction on May 30, which brought out roughly two dozen people looking to get more information. The co-op is set up to help homeowners and small business property owners shift to solar energy.

"It was a great turnout. Just from conversations, it sounds like there is robust interest. I'm confident we'll see a co-op," said Bryce Carter, program director for Solar United Neighbors.

Solar United Neighbors, which started in 2007, helps form cooperatives and then connects them with an installer. A co-op needs 25 or 30 members to get started and roughly $20,000 in seed money to bring in Solar United Neighbors.

Once a co-op hits 100-150 members, it is usually closed and a new one can start up in the same area.

Members have no financial commitment to the co-op and join to see if solar is right for them. Once they decide to install solar panels, they pay the installer. Installation of a 3 kilowatt system can cost around $10,000, Carter said at the meeting.

Carter said there are new co-ops in Fort Collins and in the Yampa Valley in northwest Colorado. Denver is also getting ready to launch one this month.

Solar United Neighbors received a grant from the city of Fort Collins of $30,000 to start a co-op there and an anonymous donor gave $30,000 in Yampa Valley to launch.

"I want to build an ongoing and growing community for renewable energy," Carter said.

The next step for Grand Junction, Carter said, is to find that seed money and make sure there are 25-30 interested members so they can find an installer for the area.

For more information, email Carter at bcarter@solarunitedneighbors.org.

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