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Solar power push 

A decade from now, solar power systems could be spread across the City of Rochester, providing low-cost renewable electricity for city homes, churches, public buildings, and businesses. That's the vision of the people behind a new nonprofit, ROCspot.

The organization's founder, Susan Spencer, says that the best way to work toward that vision is to build interest in solar power, neighborhood by neighborhood. The Solarize Rochester campaign is a good way to build that interest, she says.

ROCspot would head up the initiative, partnering with city officials and NeighborWorks, Spencer says. The groups would hold assemblies for homeowners to learn about solar.

ROCspot would also help homeowners form solar purchasing cooperatives to solicit bids from solar power system installers, Spencer says. The approach can lower costs for homeowners and installers, she says.

"This is very much a modular approach," Spencer says. "We can do this in every neighborhood."

ROCspot has applied for a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The state-backed Solarize initiatives are geared toward building community interest in solar power within a short period of time.

Groups in communities across the state, including Syracuse, Tompkins County, and Troy have led Solarize campaigns.

ROCspot grew out of a TEDxRochester talk on solar power that Spencer gave in November. TED talks are meant to advance big ideas, she says. And in her talk, Spencer said that every house in Rochester should have solar by 2025.

Her talk got the attention of staff in the city's fledgling Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, who asked Spencer to bring them a plan to meet that goal.

Spencer formed ROCspot in response, and put together a preliminary plan for the Rochester Solar Initiative; last week, the innovation office's vetting board signed off on the plan.

ROCspot also has a full board and advisory team, with members from the business, academic, activist, and marketing communities. They continue to develop the plan, which will include efforts to recruit young people into solar-related careers as well as to bring solar manufacturing companies to the Rochester area.

And while the groups wait to hear on the NYSERDA grant, ROCspot is working with St. Monica Church in the 19th Ward. Members of the congregation want to install solar, and ROCspot is lending its technical expertise. The organization has helped the church solicit bids so it can get a good system at a good price.

"Getting solar up is not as hard as it often is perceived to be," Spencer says.

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