Solar panels on the Millvale library. Brian Conway photo.

Given that Western Pennsylvania is one of the least sunny regions in the United States (we rank right up there with Seattle), Pittsburgh doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a solar revolution.

But Henry McKay, state program director for Solar United Neighbors (SUN), tells NEXTpittsburgh that overcast days are no impediment to a robust solar sector.

“Germany has a lot less sunshine than Pennsylvania does, but they have a lot more solar energy installed than we do,” McKay says. “That’s because they’ve had the political and economic will to invest in the technology and make it easier for people to do it.”

“What’s more important than the amount of sun we have is the policy environment,” he says.

To help guide residents through the byzantine world of solar power policy, and hopefully get renewable energy into more homes, McKay’s organization is holding a series of free community meetings around the county this summer in an effort to build cooperative solar power systems.

As McKay explains, their cooperative framework allows several dozen homes or businesses to collectively research and bargain on solar power systems. Along with providing support and expert advice, McKay says this cooperative negotiating model allows members to get a better deal from private installation firms.

“Even though solar has gotten a lot more affordable in recent years, it still is not cheap,” says McKay. “It’s still a big investment, especially for a typical household.”

There’s already been one information session in Monroeville, and another is scheduled for tomorrow evening in Mt. Lebanon. Click here for details on additional sessions.

While SUN organizes the introductory meetings and provides expert advice, it’s the members of the co-op themselves who make the final decisions on which solar power systems might be best for them. SUN has no financial interest in the arrangement.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.