As a retired science teacher, Richard Bloom taught his students about the benefits of solar power: clean energy, low maintenance and cost-efficient.

“I was talking about all the advantages, and my students would say, ‘Well, Mr. Bloom, do you have them?’ I had to think about that and my wife and I said, ‘Why not?'” said Bloom, an Ebensburg resident.

Six-and-a-half years ago, Bloom and his wife, Janice, made the switch: installing solar panels on the roof of their shed.

“It’s been functioning perfectly since we installed it. It’s producing about 80 percent of our electricity every year,” Bloom said.

The Blooms still have to stay hooked to the electric grid during the winter. However, even on cloudy days, they can generate 30 percent of their electricity for the day using solar panels.

Bloom said the only real disadvantages of solar power are the long pay-off period due to the high up-front costs: ranging from $7,000-$20,000 or more.

“Relatives have said to me, ‘How can you spend that much money on this?’ And they were very negative about it. I said, ‘If I had gone out and bought a sports car for the same price,you wouldn’t have said that at all,'” Bloom said.

The Blooms see solar power as an investment for the next generation.

“We want to leave the earth as clean as we possibly can,” said Richard’s wife, Janice Eastbourn-Bloom.

They also see it as an investment back into their wallets.

“Our total utility bill is pretty small right now,” Bloom said.

A new solar co-op is coming to Cambria County. Vision 2025’s Re-Energize Johnstown Capture Team partnered with Solar United Neighbors and the Sierra Club to form the co-op.

They hope 30 members will join to get a better deal on solar panel installation.

“Pooled purchasing power,” said Re-Energize Team Leader Tom Schuster. “Buy solar equipment installations to hopefully save money.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar makes up 43 percent of the electric power generation workforce nationwide. Fossil fuels make up 22 percent.

From 2006 to 2016, electricity production from solar power jumped 5,000 percent; natural gas jumped 33 percent and coal sources dropped 53 percent.

Schuster said solar power is a rapidly growing industry that could help Cambria County.

“If we can help create a market for that kind of product in this area, hopefully we will see more businesses wanting to get into that. We can have training opportunities for people who want to work in that field. And one of the reasons I’m interested in doing this is to sort of jumpstart the clean energy economy locally,” Schuster said.

There will be an informational meeting on Monday, April 23 at 6 p.m. in the community room of the Cambria County Library located at 248 Main Street in downtown Johnstown. You can learn more about solar power and the co-op. It’s free to attend and open to the public.