Annie’s Solar Journey: Clean Energy Credit Union Finances First Solar Loans

By Annie Lappé, Vote Solar

Annie, her husband Matt—also a clean energy professional—and their two daughters were the first Boulder CO customers of the CECU. © Annie Lappé

In July, our family flipped the switch on our new 7 kilowatt solar energy system. I have been working on solar energy policy at Vote Solar since 2008, and have been tracking the costs of solar energy closely. Even still, I was amazed at how affordable solar has become. As a solar advocate who works to make solar affordable and accessible to all through state level policy work, it made my heart happy to see firsthand that going solar can be such an easy and budget-friendly option. We have a lot of work left to do to make sure that the experience I had is possible for people all across America, regardless of income level, but the good news is that groups like Vote Solar, GRID Alternatives, the NAACP, and too many local groups to name, are hard at work on making solar for all a reality.

Our family’s motivation for going solar was equal parts a desire to reduce pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, and to lower our power bills. Plus I wanted to show my little daughter Evie, who is a precocious four year old, that the sun can power our home, as well as the electric bikes we use to take her to preschool.

When we bought our house this spring we turned to Namaste Solar, a company I have long admired for its coop business model and commitment to a democratic workplace that allows workers to jointly profit as the company grows. Plus, they have a great reputation for customer service and quality solar products. Namaste came out that very week to assess the solar potential on our roof, and put together a bid for a 7 kilowatt system, which would produce about 80% of our electricity needs.

They told me that we were in luck because Namaste was just embarking on a partnership with the Clean Energy Credit Union (CECU), and it looked likely that we would qualify for a low-interest loan. We completed the simple online paperwork after we put our girls to bed, and the next morning we had qualified for the loan. It was so easy. The system was installed a few weeks later, and our utility Xcel Energy quickly processed our interconnection application. Overall, the whole process took about 7 weeks and required very little of my time. With our CECU loan in place, after accounting for energy bill savings, we expect to pay about $50 per month for energy. There was no upfront payment.

We were happy to be CECU’s first Boulder, Colorado customer! CECU is a new financial institution focused solely on providing loans that help people afford clean energy products and services such as solar electric systems, electric vehicles, home energy efficiency retrofits, electric-assist bicycles, net-zero energy homes, and the like. Because it’s an online-only institution, there are no expensive operating costs of brick-and-mortar branch offices. This savings is passed along to members, like us, in the form of better loan rates. CECU is a not-for-profit financial services cooperative and a federally chartered credit union. And like Namaste, CECU is democratically owned and controlled by its members on a one-vote-per-member basis. Blake Jones, one of the co-founders of the CECU and Namaste Solar, also happens to be our neighbor – so he stopped by to give us these cool t-shirts (see photo).

Every day at my job at Vote Solar, I work towards a 100% clean energy future that empowers all customers and takes full advantage of solar power and other clean resources to reliably and affordably meet America’s energy needs. This new energy paradigm puts the interests, health, and well-being of people at its center — and now I can come home to a house that is part of our nation’s energy transformation. The other day my daughter said, “Mom, we don’t like dirty energy, right? We like to use the sun!” That’s right, I told her.