In a press conference Tuesday, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and the Community Environmental Council announced the launch of Solarize Ojai Valley.

Solarize Ojai Valley is a community-led, group-purchasing program designed make going solar easier and more affordable for Ojai Valley homeowners.

Through the Solarize Ojai Valley program, local nonprofits OVGC and CEC seek to increase the amount of renewable energy in the area and help valley homeowners save thousands of dollars on electric bills by switching to solar.

“By gathering together in this community-led effort, Ojai Valley residents will be able to enjoy a discounted price and a streamlined process for going solar,” said Jefferson Litten, CEC’s Solarize program coordinator.

He noted that more than 120 homeowners have already switched to solar through CEC’s similar Solarize programs on the Central Coast.

Solarize Ojai Valley will be available for three months — through Oct. 9. During this time, homeowners can switch to solar at a fixed, discounted price from the Ojai-based installation firm California Solar Electric. After a rigorous application process, CEC and OVGC vetted and selected CSE based on experience, quality of work and pricing.

Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett noted the difficulty in selecting the right contractor for any home improvement project.

“Often times, the hardest part of the project is making sure that you chose the right contractor,” he said. “With the Solarize Ojai Valley program, CEC and OVGC have done all the difficult and time-consuming vetting work for you. It is like a neighborly referral program on a community scale.”

At the event, Ojai Mayor Paul Blatz touted the launch of Solarize Ojai Valley.

“I sincerely hope that many valley residents take advantage of this fabulous opportunity to start using solar energy to power their homes,” Blatz said, adding that Ojai Valley’s abundant sunshine and warm summers make it an ideal locale for solar.

Troy and Jeri Becker, the hosts of the event, showcased their solar array to local dignitaries and media at the event. The Beckers have been enjoying the financial and environmental benefits of going solar since late 2004.

“Going solar is a great investment,” they said. “Our panels save us $500 a month and have saved us nearly $52,000 since we put them up.”

“A large component of the Solarize Ojai Valley program is education,” Litten said. “Many homeowners don’t know that by switching to a solar lease they can start saving money on day one or that an investment in purchasing solar panels can pay itself off in as little as five years. Once the panels are paid off, homeowners can enjoy at least 20 years of free electricity. Through outreach and educational homeowner workshops, this program seeks to inform valley residents of the benefits they can see from switching to solar.”

Solarize Ojai Valley will also be the first Solarize program to offer a free energy audit to any homeowner who signs up for the program. This nine-step audit will help homeowners reduce their energy consumption and utility bills through recommendations for energy efficiency and conservation.

With CEC and OVGC acting as liaisons between the installer and local residents, Solarize Ojai Valley offers benefits to local residents by:

» reducing the costs of solar as community group-purchasing programs offer more affordable pricing than an individual purchases

» simplifying the contractor selection process

» ensuring quality installation and service

» increasing the amount of renewable energy in Ventura County

» supporting the missions of CEC and OVGC

In order to participate, Solarize Ojai Valley participants must:

» live within the service territory (Ojai Valley, which includes Ojai, Mira Monte, Meiner Oaks, Oak View, Upper Ojai and surrounding unincorporated areas)

» own a home that is suitable for solar installation

» sign a contract with the partnered installer between July 9 and Oct. 9

To apply for Solarize Ojai Valley, homeowners can click here for the simple, 5-minute application process. Within 48 hours of application, the CEC will contact applicants to discuss the process and expectations. Homeowners can also get more information on Facebook by clicking here.

The CEC and OVGC will be hosting free introductory workshops where residents can learn about energy efficiency, conservation and solar energy. Homeowners are strongly encouraged to attend one of the workshops:

» 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23 in the Chaparral Auditorium, 414 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai

» 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15 at the Oak View Park & Resource Center, 555 Mahoney Ave. in Oak View

» 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17 at the Ojai Valley Grange Hall, 381 Cruzero St. in Ojai

In addition to getting a discounted price for solar power, Solarize Ojai Valley participants will be helping to support OVGC’s and CEC’s missions. Included in the purchase price is a small one-time fee (20 cents per installed watt) paid by California Solar Electric directly to OVGC and CEC. This fee will help both organizations continue to promote renewable energy in the Central Coast region and be self-sustaining, with no additional cost to the homeowner.

— Jefferson Litten is a Solarize program coordinator for the Community Environmental Council.