Solar Kentucky has an ambitious plan: to put solar panels on Habitat for Humanity houses across Kentucky.
The project is the brainchild of David Butler, the former owner of The Wrocklage nightclub, who now works at Alltech and in his spare time is spearheading efforts to raise money to get panels on houses in five cities: Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green, Berea and Elizabethtown.
“It is a very big goal,” Butler admitted. “The nice thing about it is if we fall short of our goal to raise enough money for the solar panels, we’ll still be able to put all the money into energy efficiency for Habitat homes.”
He began raising money this fall with concerts and events in Lexington and Louisville highlighting solar energy, and he is planning benefit concerts in the other cities next spring. He hopes they will become annual events that keep the effort growing. “I don’t look at this as a one-time thing,” he said.
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His long-term goal is to give the Habitat homeowners another way to bring down the day-to-day costs of homeownership.
Solar isn’t always an easy sell in Kentucky, he said, because electricity rates are so cheap. But as rates continue to go up and the cost of solar panels comes down, the prospect begins to look more attractive.
He estimated that the panels would cost about $12,000 per house and save the homeowner about $360 a year at current electric rates, which are rising.
“We hope to be able to raise even more money in future years and put some of that into upgrades such as new roofs, and expand to more people,” Butler said.
Energy-efficiency upgrades — including adding insulation, sealing windows, replacing outdated furnaces and water heaters — will go hand-in-hand with the solar effort, “because they can make an even bigger difference than solar panels.”
Butler is partnering with the Kentucky Housing Corp. and Habitat for Humanity, both organizations interested in ways to help low-income homeowners close the utility gap.
Deanna McCord, training initiatives coordinator for Kentucky House Corp.’s residential energy-efficiency division, said lower-income homeowners typically pay 15 percent to 18 percent of their annual income toward energy expenses, as much as four times the percentage that middle- and upper-income families typically pay.
“If you’re living below poverty level, 15 percent of your income is huge,” she said. “And they don’t have the expendable income to improve the efficiency or do the necessary maintenance over the life of the home.”
Making the home more energy efficient, she said, can cut those costs by an average of more than 20 percent.
“That puts more money in their pocket they can use to feed families or buy medications,” McCord said. “We see folks who have to make that decision: do I keep my child warm or feed my child?”
Rachel Childress, CEO of Lexington Habitat for Humanity, said the nonprofit is always looking for ways to keep homes sustainably affordable for the families that buy them.
“This project has the potential to do that,” Childress said. “We’re exploring it. There are increased up-front costs, but we’re looking forward to seeing what can come of it. ... Stewardship of the earth and conserving energy are also part of having a decent place to live.”