Towns and counties from Boulder, Colo. to Muncie, Ind. and Franklin County, Pennsylvania to states like Ohio and Alaska will host more than 160,000 visitors in open house tours of the greenest buildings, according to the society.
Most of the tours take place on Saturday. Some are full weekend affairs.
Some new areas have come online with plenty of solid new and lasting solar installations to show off while other more established and historic programs have expanded. There are more than 5,500 buildings featured on this year’s tour, according to the Society.
Many communities, while they retain their ties with their solar roots, have branched out to include other renewable energy sources.
“Interest in the solar industry is cooking,” National Solar Tour manager Richard Burns said in a statement. “And consumers across the nation are eager to sample its wares, which bring enticing tax credits, cash rebates, improved property values and cleaner communities to home and business owners across America.”
Among the newest programs is Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
“It’s definitely the first one in Franklin County,” said organizer Len Lindenmeyer. “And, as far as I know, it’s the first one in south central Pennsylvania.”
He said the area just started its regional Renewable Energy Association three months ago. While renewable energy is just getting its legs in Franklin County, they’re strong legs.
The area’s first tour will feature nine destinations. Two of them are farms, Lindenmeyer said. One, an organic farm, has a 30-megawatt solar installation and the other, a dairy, has a 50-megawatt array.
Lindenmeyer said people in his area of Pennsylvania were slow to pick up on solar. No one seemed to know about its potential or care. But once people started to catch on, the trend spread like a wildfire.
Lindenmeyer started teaching a clean energy seminar at Warren Wilson College four years ago. And then he hosted community workshops about going solar last year.
“We live in a community of just 400 or 500 homeowners,” Lindenmeyer said. “And 15 people in town installed solar as a result of those workshops.”
South central Pennsylvania is not a heavily populated area. There are just over 30,000 residents in Franklin County, Lindenmeyer said.
Events like this weekend’s tour are a perfect way to get the word out and provide a little education and information that can go a long way, Lindenmeyer said. It’s like having nine of the workshops he hosted that helped people take the plunge. He hopes the tour is an inspiration to the people who attend. He’s expecting a good turnout of about 100.
While it’s a great showing for a small community hosting its first solar home tour, it’s a tiny fraction of the number of people expected to attend the long-established Ohio Green Buildings tour. The event registered more than 6,400 site visits last year and it was terrible disappointment to organizer Bill Spratley.
“The weather will kill it,” said Spratley, who is with Green Energy Ohio. “Bad weather is a killer for an event like this.”
That’s what happened last year. Luckily, he said he’s expecting sunshine and temperatures in the high 50s and 60s for this weekend’s event.
“We have a very big tour this year,” Spratley said.
There are 234 tour sites in 137 Ohio cities, he said. Some areas, of course are bigger with greater concentrations. More than 30 percent of the tour sites are located in the northeast part of the state around Cleveland, Akron and Canton. There are 38 in Hamilton County, where Cleveland is located.
Spratley said the tour always used to focus exclusively on solar homes. But, it’s recently been expanding to include other renewable energy technologies like geothermal and wind. Ohio is home to a lot of good wind power with more and more utility-scale solar installations going in all the time, Spratley said.
“This is the first year we’re calling it the green building tour,” Spratley said. “People didn’t used to know what that means. But it’s gotten popular enough now.”
He said there are more sites every year and that’s even with some sites that participated in previous years dropping off the lists.
Ohio has an extremely active solar population.
“The Cincinnati Zoo has more solar than all the other zoos in the country combined,” Spratley said.
There are also several solar and wind manufacturing plants. The state ranks second in the nation for employing people in the renewable energy manufacturing sector, Spratley said.
The strong solar growth and culture in the state is largely due to a robust renewable energy portfolio standard, requiring utility companies in the state to get 25 percent of their power from renewable sources.
But the Ohio legislature is considering a bill to eliminate its portfolio standard, Spratley said.
“We hope that this event will help them realize how significant renewable energy is in Ohio and how important the portfolio standard is.”
Ohio’s tour, like the tours across the country, is focused on education and growing awareness.