URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — There’s been a huge jump in people using solar energy in central Illinois. Officials say more people have signed up because of increasing energy costs.

This year, 70 property owners in Urbana signed up for the “Solar Urbana-Champaign” program. That’s compared to just 16 last year.

“Our purpose here is to make getting solar energy systems for homes or businesses faster, easier, and cheaper,” said Sustainability Officer Scott Tess.

And for homeowners in Urbana, the need for cheaper energy has become even more important. The end of year results for solar group buying program, Solar Urbana Champaign, has shown a huge jump for installs in the area. Urbana’s Sustainability Director said this new participation record is a reflection of a different record.

“We’ve had the lowest prices we’ve ever seen. At the same time, the grid prices, the electricity prices from the grid are rising as high as we’ve seen in a really long time,” said Tess.

Energy rates tripled for Urbana homeowners this month. The city’s locked in four cent rates went up to 12 cents. While solar energy could be a cheaper option in the long run, many people may not understand it; but that’s where Solar C-U comes in.

“We talk about everything solar, and we make people savvy consumers– savvy purchasers of a solar energy system, so they feel confident walking out the door,” said Tess.

Tess said costs with this year’s program ranged from $8,000 to $80,000. But people shouldn’t expect to see those savings up front. When compared to traditional energy costs, it may take a couple years to match initial costs for solar, the true savings comes after.

“At the end of that, the systems are guaranteed for 25 years. So, you have a backend benefit of a zero-cost energy,” said CRNE Solar Branch Manager, Doug Scatterday.

The program has closed for the year, but the next solar bulk purchase is expected to open next spring.

People are encouraged to sign up for email alerts for the next group buy opportunity.