Tina Wilkinson loves the Earth so much so that she recently became an official “Earthkeeper” through the United Methodist Church.

The Earthkeepers Program was started last year and is an international effort to commission parishioners from across the globe to complete projects in their communities that promote conservation and preservation of the environment, she said.

Tina and Scott Wilkinson had solar panels installed this
year on their Ralston Court home. Tina Wilkinson spearheaded the Solarize Dunwoody campaign. (Dyana Bagby)

“I’ve been commissioned for three years as an Earthkeeper and as part of that, I must complete a project that goes beyond the church walls,” she said.

Wilkinson decided to take on a project to bring solar panels to Dunwoody. She started the project, known as Solarize Dunwoody, after seeing similar programs in Athens and DeKalb/Decatur.

Solarize programs are able to facilitate savings to residents who want solar panels for their homes and businesses by leveraging the power of bulk purchasing, Wilkinson said. Solarize Dunwoody is a coalition of community members and is collaborating with Decatur-based Solar CrowdSource, a for-profit company. Solar CrowdSource administered solar campaigns in Athens and Decatur and is also set to help begin a Solarize Atlanta campaign later this year.

Through Solar CrowdSource, Solarize Dunwoody put out a bid to select a solar installer for Dunwoody residents. After interviews and vetting of three different vendors, Atlanta-based Hannah Solar was selected to be the company installing solar panels in Dunwoody, Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said Solar CrowdSource does things such as manage the Solarize Dunwoody website and put out marketing materials. In exchange for the work, the company receives a percentage of each solar panel contract signed.

“I think the timing is right for solar energy; the prices are really good,” Wilkinson said. “This is all about clean energy and taking care of the environment.”

Dunwoody residents are able to start signing up this month for free estimates and evaluations to determine if their homes or businesses are compatible for solar panels.

Scott Wilkinson points to the Georgia Power meter that runs backwards when solar panels on his roof generate excess electricity, which is fed into the power grid. (Dyana Bagby)

A formal launch party is set for Sept. 7 at the Dunwoody Nature Center from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Registrations for the Solarize Dunwoody program will go through Jan. 31, 2018, Wilkinson said, and the goal is to register about 60 people in that time.

The more people who register, the cheaper installations are, she said.

Wilkinson and her husband, Scott, paid about $13,000 to install solar panels on the roof of their Ralston Court home through the Solarize DeKalb/Decatur program. Wilkinson said they signed a contract in October, the panels were installed in April, and in June they had the panels connected to Georgia Power Co.

Although solar panels are powered by the sun, most home installations still need to be connected to the grid system so people can get electricity when there is no sun shining. On Aug. 21, for example, during the solar eclipse, the panels did not produce any energy.

When the Wilkinson’s solar panels are generating power, any excess electricity is fed into the grid and actually “turns back” their electricity meter. “You can actually see the meter moving backwards,” Scott Wilkinson said.

The panels have a 30-year life span and are expected to pay for themselves within a decade. Tina Wilkinson said their typical July power bill was $305. With the solar panels installed for just one month, they saw their power bill drop to $182.

“This is just one month, so it’s not statistically significant. But we were happy,” she said.

Scott Wilkinson uses an app on his iPhone to track solar energy produced through his solar panels. On Aug. 21, the deep dip in the blue shows no power being produced at the time of the solar eclipse. (Dyana Bagby)

Jason Metzger is on the city’s Sustainability Committee and is volunteering with Solarize Dunwoody on behalf of the city to promote sustainability, he said. “That’s one of my passions — taking care of the environment,” he said.

Metzger would like to get solar panels on his home, but said his homeowner’s association does not allow solar panels on the south side of homes that are facing the road. The south side of his home is where the panels would need to go to get the most sun.

But he feels programs like Solarize Dunwoody give individuals the opportunity to become open to considering solar power for their homes.

“We’re excited and we’re hoping to get the Dunwoody community excited as well,” he said. “I think it can be very intimidating for an individual to go through the process on their own … and I think these kinds of ventures help bring experts to the table to help the individual homeowner.”

For more information, see solarizedunwoody.com.