Solarize Blacksburg, a priority strategy that emerged from the Livability Initiative’s Regional Energy Plan, was recently awarded the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Award for 2015 along with a $15,000 prize. The Solarize program was the first initiative of its kind in Virginia when it was launched in the spring of 2014. This program became a game-changer for clean energy in the Blacksburg community, and rapidly spread across the New River Valley and the state. The prize money awarded to Blacksburg for the Solarize program has been contributed to the Susan Garrison Memorial Fund which is managed by the Community Foundation of the New River Valley. Susan was Town of Blacksburg’s long-time SustainabilityManager as well as a member of the Livability Initiative’s leadership team and the chair of its Energy Working Group. In many ways, the Solarize program and the subsequent award were a testament to Susan’s years of work to move Blacksburg and the New River Valley toward a clean energy future.

The success of the Solarize program was remarkable and revealed just how much pent-up demand there was for solar in our community. The program quadrupled residential solar in the town in just six months with Blacksburg’s citizens investing more than $1.1 million dollars of their own money to go solar, however this was just the beginning. From there, sister communities across the state of Virginia took notice and reached out to us for guidance on how to launch Solarize initiatives of their own. To-date, 24 other Virginia communities, including Montgomery and Floyd County have followed Blacksburg’s lead and created Solarize programs of their own, resulting in more than $6.4 million dollars in renewable energy investment across the state; a number that continues to climb by the day.

Based on Virginia’s utility fuel mix and resultant greenhouse gas profile, every watt of solar installed during the Solarize campaign will eliminate 44 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions over its operational life. Multiplying this by the total watts (302,000) installed during the campaign, it is estimated that Solarize Blacksburg alone will eliminate 13,288,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases over the next 25 years.

The success of the Solarize program expands beyond positive environmental outcomes; it is also an enormous economic win for individual households and the community as a whole. We know that residents and businesses in our region spend nearly $250 million dollars each year on electricity – dollars that leave the community immediately and permanently. Directly, about 40% of the cost of a solar array remains in the local economy paid as wages and overhead. Indirectly, each month after a solar array “goes live”, Solarize households will offset a sizeable percentage of what they had been paying each month to their electric utility. Those avoided energy costs are retained by the homeowner, now available to support other economic activity within our local and regional economy. Conservatively, we estimate the direct economic impact to the community at $440,000, with the positive indirect impacts from avoided energy costs persisting for decades.

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