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Won't you be my solar-panel-buying neighbor?

In gray Western Washington, good old neighborhood community-building is driving a solar panel spike.

Alex Sawyer, with Solarize Washington, points to a color-coded solar resource map of the U.S. and a map of a European country in the corner. Washington state is dark blue, Southern California and New Mexico dark red. The big question, Sawyer explains to the rapt audience at a community center, is does solar work in gray Western Washington? 

Click on the player above or here to listen to the audio version of this story.

The answer is yes. Germany, she says, is also color-coded dark blue. They have 15 percent less annual sun than the Puget Sound.

“But they've bested us by far in how much solar they've been able to install with that resource. The reason for that is not because Germany is the sunniest place in the world. It's because Germany has great incentives.” Solar has become accessible she says, it’s the norm. “As such, awareness has really skyrocketed about solar as an option."

Solarize Washington is partnering with community groups to spread the word about solar and build critical mass to capitalize on group discounts. The goal is to make solar more accessible here. “There's a couple of benefits we see about the way we run our program," Sawyer says. "One is the trust factor. People are generally overwhelmed with being sold things and this is much less of a sales program and more of a community education program with an end goal of installing solar."

A pilot began two years ago with the community group, Sustainable Queen Anne. Two more Seattle campaigns followed, then a partnership with the Snohomish PUD. From now through April, Solarize Washington is holding workshops for Northwest Seattle residents. Partial funding is from Seattle City Light. Workshops are scheduled in Ballard, Bitter Lake and Wallingford. They’re being held in these areas for one reason: community involvement.

About a year ago, Bill Thorness with Sustainable Ballard contacted Solarize Washington and began to compile the names of people interested in installing solar. "We started to build that list and it eventually grew to about 200 people before we entered the bid to get the program to bring it to our neighborhood." Once Solarize Washington is assured there’s enough community interest, they’ll hold a free workshop including site assessments and group discounts from solar contractors.

Incentives include a 30 percent federal tax credit, a state sales tax exemption if a solar system is purchased by June 30th and an annual production incentive capped at five thousand a year through June 2020. This incentive is credited by a utility when solar panels generate more energy than a home needs. Another incentive offers homeowners fifteen cents per kilowatt hour for solar systems made out of state and fifty-four cents per kilowatt hour for those made in-state.

“That incentive is really designed to build a local solar industry here because folks receive a much bigger payback on their system if they buy it here," Sawyer explains. With incentives, she says, a solar system made in-state can be paid off in eight years. 

To date the critical mass/ community approach has added 138 solar systems to the regional grid and invested 3.8 million in the local economy. The only hitch — Solarize Washington, a non-profit program of Northwest SEED, Sustainable Energy for Economic Development — can only offer the discount program in neighborhoods with active community groups. 

Jennifer Maury attended the Northwest Seattle workshop. “I live on Beacon Hill and as such don't qualify for the program, which is a total rip-off," she complained. Sawyer encouraged her to organize a community group in her own neighborhood and, in the meantime, to approach solar installers at the workshop to see if she can cash in on another neighborhood's group bid.

The primary stumbling block to solar gaining traction is upfront costs, which range from fifteen to thirty thousand dollars. Twenty-two states have already brought down costs through 3rd party financing. A solar company receives federal tax credits for leasing solar systems to homeowners. The only requirement is that the home owner purchase the solar energy, which would be offered at a price comparable to hydro, for a period of time.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Does Germany have a bunch of "non-profit" parasites attached to their solar efforts?

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 3:13 p.m. Inappropriate

In Germany, utilities are required to buy excess power from homeowners at a rate higher than the commercial retail rate. In the US, utilities must only pay the wholesale rate that they pay any generator. Thus, it is possible to shine high-efficiency lamps onto high-efficiency solar cells and make money. It takes a long time to amortize the investment, but if you want to Kleben es an den Man, it's nice to get that check for €50-€100* every month for playing the Greens for suckers.


*Includes income from daytime generation.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Solar power in Seattle (and Germany) is a joke.

Let's take Seattle first. Contrary to the claims of the self-interested boosters, we get half the photons that the Southwest gets. Even with the enormous subsidy (roughly eight times the retail rate) given to solar here, the payback period is still about 10 years.

Why would the low cost of hydroelectric power be considered a "hurdle," anyway? Hydro is as renewable as it gets, but for some reason we have eco-fakers around here who are against hydro power. Ground-source heat pumps make all kinds of sense here, especially if paired with low-cost electricity. But solar makes no sense at all.

As for Germany, the eco-fakers routinely misrepresent how much of that country's power comes from solar. About 5% of Germany's installed capacity comes from solar, but only 1% to 2% of the actual energy generated. Solar has been a gigantic waste there. All the engineers know it, too.

But hey, in Seattle, the eco-fake "progressives" will stop at nothing to make themselves feel self-righteous. Don't even try bothering them with any science. They are just as faith-based as Sarah Palin ever was.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Feb 18, 11:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Please provide a source for your claims about Germany's installed capacity. Higher capacity numbers are reported in the link below. The first graph, and its caption, lays it out: "Germany has most solar PV installed in absolute (30GW) and relative terms (50% of peak demand)."

http://cleantechnica.com/2012/12/19/chart-german-pv-capacity-50-of-peak-summer-demand-us-pv-capacity-0-5-of-peak-summer-demand/

In terms of solar as a percentage of daily total electricity generation, the figure varies. In May of 2012, solar provided 10% of the relatively cloudy country's electricity. The number rose to as high as a third of demand during that month: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/12/497984/solar-provides-10-of-germanys-electricity-in-may/

That's a lot of clean power.

Myrica C

Posted Thu, Feb 14, 4:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Here is the follow-up letter I sent to the House Environment Committee after yesterday's hearing. These comments are about HB 1105, the bill to fix the current cost recovery incentive law. Please check out these common sense fixes. Path to success it K.I.S.S. "Keep it stupid simple."\

http://vashoncommunitysolar.org/2013/02/hb1105-house-environment-hearing-testimony-followup/

Main amendments:
HB 1105
Top Tier Amendments:

1. As HB 1105 expands eligible properties to include tribal
properties, please amend to include all properties owned by
tax-payers such as community colleges and city buildings
in municipalities that have their own utilities

2. Amend HB 1105 so that in order to qualify for the highest
incentive program, an automatic transfer of ownership to public
host is required. [This should help ensure public benefit from
public incentive, help reduce DFI involvement, decrease
operating costs like lease/rent/insurance and administration for
the community solar organizers].

3. PLEASE make simple amendment that the $5000 (Or whatever
amount you decide upon – as it may make sense to increase it for
some aspects of the program to $10,000 or more) cap on
incentives is per person, yer year, PER PROJECT
(Not program wide). This will eliminate a source of much
confusion at DOR and uncompensated and unnecessary burden on
utilities which have been forced into tracking system wide
participation – which is impossible for them and thus has
resulted consequentially in unnecessary limits on who can
participate in projects to only those who are that utility’s
electrical customers. This amendment should fix that issue.
5/25/70 % allocation of incentive pool is problematic because
LLC limit is squelching participation while the utility portion
is under utilized. Consider fixes to that ratio, perhaps
lumping utility and company owned together for a 30/70 split.

4. PLEASE REMOVE “owner and” and the mentions of “other” from
the definition of “Administrator so that a non-owners, such as a
nonprofit organizations, community associations, and community
organizers can server as an “administrator” without being an
“owner.” [This was especially a problem when it was required
that all owners be account holders at the utility within whose
service area they were organizing. Many nonprofits rent office
space, not do not have an account with the utility. It is
another example of where DOR was making rulings, and then
exceptions, then exclusions trying to interpret words in the law
that were relatively arbitrary.]

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