EFFINGHAM — A group effort to bring more solar energy to the area noted solar energy was ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity in 2016.

The group, Solarize East Central Illinois, spoke recently at Effingham Public Library as part of a series of Solar Power Hour talks.

Several organizations have banded together to offer solar energy in the Lake Land College district, in a group purchasing program for small businesses and residential projects.

Agencies that have come together with Lake Land College are Effingham Recycles, Charleston Huddle, Coles Progressives, Effingham Impact 2030 and Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

MREA issued a competitive request for proposals and the Advisory Committee selected a single installer to help carry out the program — Effingham-based Tick Tock Energy.

The grassroots program combines volume purchasing and incentives with community education in order to make solar more accessible and affordable for area property owners.

Under the program, a 6.75 kW residential roof array system installed is estimated to cost $22,132. But with federal tax credits now being offered and group buy savings, the cost would be significantly less at about $5,500. The savings over 25 years could be about $30,300, according to Tick Tock Energy.

Speaker Joe Tillman, a Lake Land College renewable energy instructor, said the college wanted to get involved in the project, which is working to get as many signed up as possible by the end of September.

“We are looking to create sustainable communities by making solar simpler and more affordable,” said Tillman. “In the last few years, solar has been dropping incredibly in price. I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d see commercial-sized solar projects going up in the college’s district, but it is happening in Shelbyville and Paris. Technology is getting better and better every six months or every year.”

The college and others involved agree solar panels — either rooftop or ground mounted — are an investment in the environment.

South facing with sun exposure is ideal, but east or west-facing roofs are also options. When it comes to roof panels, it is best to have a roof in good condition before installation. Ground mounting is good for larger solar arrays and for properties where the house roof is shaded, said Emil Wolfshoefer, adjunct faculty technology.

“We’ve got good sun through here in our area,” said Wolfshoefer. “With newer technology, we can actually see the health of each one of our cells.”

Wolfshoefer, referring to maps and diagrams, talked about the basics of how solar energy works and what the site should look like to determine if a homeowner’s property is a good site for panels.

During the solar talk, it was explained that the key ingredient is the pricing for group buy, and getting the best price per watt than what any individual buyer could get. It was noted that homes being sold with solar panels get 4.1 percent more than those without panels. Once the participants in the group’s collective buying reaches 50 kW of capacity, everyone gets an additional reduction of the price of their turnkey solar array. An additional reduction in costs happens at the 150 kW mark, 250 kW and 350 kW.

The program also includes design, permitting, components, installation and warranty, which is 10 years on labor and between 12 and 25 years on equipment, depending on what was installed.

The group price offer is only for a limited time and area home, farm and business owners can participate in the solar program. The more that participate the lower the costs will be, Tillman said.

This offer is only good for those who sign up before Sept. 30 with Tick Tock. Tillman and Pals ask that people sign up by Labor Day, which is Sept. 2, because there are site visits and paperwork to be done before Sept. 30.

“We wanted a company with a track record, if you will,” said Tillman of Tick Tock. “We wanted community outreach. We want strong customer education. That’s why Lake Land College got into this.”

The owners of homes and small businesses in the Lake Land College district are eligible for a free, no-obligation information session. That includes residents in Coles, Cumberland, Effingham, Shelby, Moultrie, Fayette, Edgar and Clark counties.

Future talks are planned as follows:

Wednesday, June 12, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Effingham Public Library, 200 North Third, Effingham.

Wednesday, June 19, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Titus Memorial Library, 2 West Water, Sullivan.

Thursday, June 27, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Marshall Library, 612 Archer Ave., Marshall.

Monday, July 8, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Neal Center YMCA, 130 Courthouse Square, Toledo.

Wednesday, July 10, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Effingham Public Library, 200 North Third, Effingham.

Sunday, July 14, 2 to 3 p.m., Charleston Library, Sixth Street and Van Buren Avenue, Charleston.

Friday, Aug. 2, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Shelbyville Library, 154 N. Broadway St., Shelbyville.

Saturday, Aug. 24, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Douglas-Hart Nature Center, 2204 DeWitt Ave. East, Mattoon.

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