First, there was JMU Wind. Now, Solarize Harrisonburg is hoping for JMU Sun. Launched last July by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Solarize Harrisonburg attempts to make people more aware of their electric use and understand how the use of solar panels can benefit them both morally and economically.

Solar panels are an alternative energy solution, as opposed to fossil fuels and natural gasses. They absorb energy from the sun to supply electrical energy to commercial and residential appliances. Solar panels have many positive environmental impacts, such as the reduction of air and water pollution.

“Solarize Harrisonburg is a grassroots, community-based project intended to increase solar [energy use], allowing people to work together as a group and buy collectively so that the installer, Sigora Solar, can bulk buy and give us a reduced price,” Joy Loving, community leader of Solarize Harrisonburg, said. “The discount can be as much as 30 percent off of retail, and that is not chump change for a purchase of this size.”

While the project is geared toward Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents, its cause goes beyond the Valley.

“This movement is not unique to Harrisonburg. It is not even unique to Virginia. It is a nationwide kind of movement where communities band together and see if they can buy solar in a more affordable manner,” Loving said.

Loving installed solar panels in her home back in 2012, which led to personal enlightenment, as well as a lightening of her electric bill.

“Not too many of us understand how much electricity we use. I didn’t, until I got out my bills to decide what kind of a system I needed. We don’t focus on the usage; we don’t focus on how we could use less,” Loving said. “The more I learned, the more I thought it was time that Virginia began to think a little differently about energy.”

The more conscious Loving became of her own energy use, the more she turned against mainstream sources of energy.

“I tell people I became like an ex-smoker who is very anti-cigarettes. I am now rabidly pro-solar. Most people do not enjoy getting their electric bills and I now enjoy getting mine, because I pay $8.40 a month [instead of the $100 a month pre-switch] for infrastructure costs,” Loving said.

Loving and other volunteers go to several community events to advertise their cause. This past Saturday, they set up a table at the Harrionburg Farmers Market downtown and passed out fliers. Their main goal is not to sell solar panels, but simply to spread the word. Loving is convinced that the more people know, the more likely they are to sign up.

“I’m not really trying to convince them to switch; I’m trying to make them understand what their options are. The price of solar has been falling dramatically in the past few years. It’s become a more logical choice,” Loving said. “We have almost a hundred people signed up, which isn’t bad for a grassroots, zero-budget, no-advertising-dollars kind of enterprise. People have been pretty receptive.”

Harrisonburg resident and volunteer Adrie Voors is one of 100 people who’ve signed up for solar panels, and she couldn’t be more excited to make a positive difference on the environment.

“I’m very concerned about climate change,” Voors said. “[My family] is getting panels through this group and it’s very seamless in this format and this model so we’re really excited about it. It reduces the use of fossil fuels.”

Although Loving and Voors are both community volunteers, Solarize Harrisonburg also works with student volunteers. Students can get involved by going on the organization’s official website or by contacting Loving. There are currently three volunteers and their duties are mostly related to public relations.

“I got involved with SCOM 350-Organizational Communication. We had several options to pursue for an assignment and I picked Solarize Harrisonburg. I felt like I was not only helping out a good cause, but also like my skills aligned with helping them out,” fifth-year senior marketing major and student volunteer John Ricketti said.

To volunteer with Solarize Harrisonburg, contact Joy Loving at jal_1998@yahoo.com or go online. To learn more, there is a public information meeting on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Massanutten Regional Library.

Contact Robyn Smith at breezearts@gmail.com.