Community leaders in Point Breeze are teaching their neighbors what it’s like to live on the sunny side of the street. At a launch party on Sunday, February 8 – under the direction of nonprofit SmartPower – they kicked off the Solarize Allegheny program to alert residents and businesses to the facts about solar power.

The event took place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Pino’s Restaurant in Point Breeze.

“We’re connecting with community leaders because they are the ones who have the social networks in the community,” says Sharon Pillar, vice president of SmartPower.

Solarize Allegheny will encompass 20-week campaigns in five separate communities with Point Breeze as the first. Others will follow in Etna and Millvale on February 18, Moon Township on February 23 and in South Fayette, yet to be announced.

During the Point Breeze campaign, experts with SmartPower will hold informational workshops with employers, schools, faith communities and other organizations. The first is on February 11 at St. Bede School.

“There will be contractors there, and they will have computers so you will be able to see if your house is a good candidate for solar” taking into consideration the shade on your roof and the direction it points, says Larry Gerson, president of the Point Breeze Organization, the group spearheading the community’s solar initiatives.

The group is even planning tours of the community’s nine existing solar homes. The goal of the campaign is to double that number, says Gerson.

Pillar says there are two misconceptions that western Pennsylvanians have about solar power. The first is that it’s too cloudy here. “Not true,” she says, noting that Germany, the leading solar nation, gets about as much sun as Alaska.

“Many northeastern states get less sun than we do, and they are installing solar at rapid rates,” she adds.

For example, with 30,517 registered systems, New Jersey has the third highest number of installed systems in the country, behind California and Arizona, she says. Pennsylvania ranks 14th in the nation with over 7,000 systems, but only 400 are in western Pennsylvania.

The second misconception is that people can’t afford it.

The cost of solar has dropped significantly, Pillar says. “It’s really a choice of renting your electricity from the utilities and paying them $25,000 over the next several years, or buying it and saving thousands,” says Pillar.

Average cost is based on how people use energy. A five kilowatt system, including a 30% federal tax credit available through 2016, comes to about $13,000 to 14,000.

“There are loan programs around now with no money down, spreading the cost over 20 years, that are similar to what you’re paying utilities every month,” she notes.

Solar owner and Point Breeze resident Fred Kraybill has led the charge to get more people on board with solar power. In fact, his own system of 34 rooftop panels and another 40 in his yard provides the energy for his home – a mansion that has been converted into five apartments – and his electric car charger.

“I believe in distributive energy. Solar is a people-powered, resilient energy,” he says.

To better help people understand all components of solar – like how the metering works and how the tax credit works for their individual case – residents and business owners can use the Solarize Allegheny online platform to submit their information and request customized quotes from all of the local approved installers.

The Solarize programs have had proven success in other regions. In a recent two-year Solarize Connecticut campaign in 46 communities, 1,900 new systems were installed. A campaign in Rhode Island produced 88 new contracts in nine weeks.

“(Solarize Allegheny) gives people the opportunity to look at solar seriously,” says Kraybill.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.