When a group of University Hills neighbors got together one evening last year to hear about options for installing rooftop solar panels, negotiating a group discount was not an articulated goal.

A handful of residents had gathered to watch a slide show delivered by resident Senait Forthal, a renewable energy consultant. Her neighbor, UCI writer-in-residence Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, started a list of people interested in solar installation, which quickly grew to 60. Meanwhile, the group enlisted the Community Environmental Council, a Santa Barbara nonprofit, to assist in selecting a solar company.

The group eventually chose Urban Energy Solar because it was based locally, had great reviews and references, and offered a superior product, said Tuhus-Dubrow. The UHills neighbors initially rejected a price quote from Urban Energy as too high. The Community Environmental Council stepped in, successfully negotiating a discount that amounted to about 20 percent below market rate. By the July 31 deadline, 58 University Hills residents had signed contracts to install solar.

According to Tuhus-Dubrow, who now sits on the HRB Sustainability Committee, residents were motivated by the prospect of cost savings over time but also by a commitment to clean energy.

“Ironically, UHills homes—especially the newer ones—are already very energy-efficient, so it can be hard to make the argument for the financial advantage [of solar.] But people really value sustainability.” — Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow 

Following the success of the solar campaign, the Sustainability Committee is preparing for its first Repair Cafe, scheduled for November 18 at the Community Center. The Repair Cafe will feature handy University Hills residents helping their neighbors by providing sewing, knife sharpening and bike repair.

Be sure to stop by the Sustainability Committee’s booth at the Fall Fiesta for more information.