Scottsdale resident Amy Ettinger, who is Jewish, has lived in Arizona since 1976 and has become increasingly concerned about brownouts and blackouts due to excessive electricity demand on the power grid, especially during the summer. Having experienced periods with no air conditioning during power outages in the past, she was looking for a way to generate power for her home independently.

Ettinger researched generators but decided that she didn’t want to have to handle the propane, regular gasoline or diesel to keep them running and her property is too small for a wind farm, so she decided to explore solar as an option — that’s when a friend told her about Solar United Neighbors (SUN).

SUN is a nonprofit organization that works in Arizona and across the nation, holding events and education programs to help people become informed solar consumers, maximize the value of their solar investment and advocate for fair solar policies.

Ettinger spoke to several solar installation companies before she reached out to SUN, and she said her head was spinning from the discrepancies in the information she received. One company told her that she needed 10 panels on her roof and the other quoted 13, and no one would tell her exactly how long the system would run on battery power alone if the power grid went down.

She said when she talked to SUN, she was astonished by how much coaching, advice and knowledge they provided at absolutely no cost. “SUN told me to reach out to as many businesses as I wanted and narrow it down to my top three,” said Ettinger. “Then they evaluate and decipher those estimates and tell you the advantages and disadvantages of each one. They do a lot.”

When SUN returned its feedback to Ettinger, it also invited her to join a new neighborhood co-op that was opening. Co-op members can individually purchase the right system for their home based on an installer’s group rate from a vendor, which is selected after a bidding process facilitated by SUN and someone from a co-op volunteer committee. Joining the co-op does not obligate members to purchase solar.

Since 2019, SUN has hosted 14 solar co-ops in Arizona. With new federal tax incentives and a financial assistance program for low-income homeowners, the program expects to attract even more members this year.

Through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), participants in this year’s co-op may be able to use the solar tax credit for residential solar and save 30% on their total system cost. A similar tax credit is also available to small businesses, who can participate in the co-op.

“I’m so excited to launch this year’s solar co-op in Phoenix, as I hear from more and more people looking for help navigating the process of going solar,” said Adrian Keller, Arizona program director for SUN. “I’m particularly looking forward to helping folks access our Solar Energy Assistance Program, so that families for whom the financial burden is just too high can also share in the benefits of power from the sun.”

Thanks to this year’s partnership with the City of Phoenix, the co-op will have funding available to help 10 low-income families install a six-kilowatt rooftop solar system (a standard household system size) at no cost.

“Phoenix has more solar per capita than any other big city, and we’re proud to connect even more residents to this cost-saving, sustainable resource through this program,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in a statement. “The co-op helps residents navigate the installation process using an independent, verified nonprofit and this year, we’re thrilled to support 10 homeowners in low-income neighborhoods to install solar at no cost.”

Ettinger signed up to be part of the last co-op’s vendor selection committee. “It was an excellent opportunity to learn a lot more than I was learning trying to research it on my own,” she said. “Being on the committee, we selected the vendor we preferred, and I hired that vendor. So, I didn’t hire any of the five I talked to on my own.”

She said it took about eight months from when she signed the contract until going “live” using the panels and her battery. The hold up was due to supply chain issues and other delays with Salt River Project (SRP) and the city of Scottsdale.

Ettinger is thrilled with the outcome and said that she can run the internet, electrical outlets, refrigerator, microwave and a mini-split system (a heating and cooling system that allows you to control the temperature in an individual room) in her bedroom on the energy from the battery powered by her solar panels. She said the only thing she can’t run off the battery is her whole-home HVAC system and her washer and dryer.

“I have an app on my iPad and phone that shows me my consumption in real time and the different settings that you can activate during the year — maybe one setting on your battery is more advantageous than another,” said Ettinger. “So, I’ve been playing with that a lot. I wouldn’t say that I’m a gearhead but it’s satisfying something inside of me to control my own grid experience.” JN

There are two co-ops currently open to join in Arizona. The Quad Cities Solar Co-op is open to residents near Prescott, Prescott Valley, Dewey-Humboldt and Chino Valley and closes to new members on May 31. The Phoenix Metro Solar Co-op is open to residents of Maricopa County, San Tan Valley and Queen Creek and closes to new members on July 7. For more information, visit