Thanks to community cooperative, investing in solar energy now affordable

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The roof of the Frances Anderson Center, site of the community solar energy project.

By Chris Herman
Interim President, Edmonds Community Solar Co-op

Affordable solar power sound like an oxymoron, akin to jumbo shrimp or winter sun in Seattle? Not any more. Lowering the cost of solar energy use recently got a giant boost. Those of us without $20,000 of disposable income — or a south-facing roof — can buy into a commercial-sized solar electric system for $1,000 and help create clean, renewable solar electricity in our own area through the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative.

Visit http://www.tangerinepower.com/Edmonds to sign up as a co-op member and become part of the first citizen owned community solar project in the state.

The biggest myth of solar use in the Pacific Northwest is that we don’t get enough sun to make it worthwhile. Do a little research on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website and you’ll see that we get more than any part of Germany, where they installed more photovoltaic (PV or solar electric) capacity last year than we have in the entire nation. And the Germans are not dim when it comes to engineering.

In the summer, we get more solar light than Phoenix, Arizona. Our long days and cooler temperatures mean excellent PV output for a good part of the year.  PV works on light and loses efficiency when it’s hot. On an annual basis we get 70 percent of what Los Angeles enjoys.

Community solar legislation, passed in 2009, made it possible for anyone — renters, condo owners, forest dwellers and thousandaires — to share in the triple bottom line of solar energy use. We can reduce our carbon footprint (good for our planet), provide discounted power to the City of Edmonds (good for our community) and receive federal, state and utility incentives (good for our wallet). 

And joining the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative is not limited to Edmonds residents. Any one served by Snohomish County PUD can buy a share or the official trademarked name, a Sunslice.

The environmental benefits of using the sun to produce power are obvious:  no fuel costs, no pollution and no dependence on foreign governments. And when the sun has a massive spill, we call it a nice day. In fact, the sun has been going strong for over 4 billion years without an outage or a rate increase. So why not use it?

The cost of installing a solar electric system has been prohibitive for most people up until now. By combining our resources, we have achieved economies of scale and made the price reasonable. And commercial solar systems are eligible for a 30-percent non-competitive grant from the federal government. That means the U.S. Department of Energy will write the Solar Cooperative a check for almost $200,000 if we build the entire 7,500-square-foot system, which is the maximum size allowed by state law for community solar incentives.

The community solar law, ESSB 6658, allows double the state production incentive for systems hosted by local governments, special purpose districts or utilities. Our co-op will be getting $1.08 per kilowatt hour for every bit of electricity the system produces until June 30, 2020. We will qualify for this major revenue stream by using solar panels and voltage inverter systems manufactured in Washington. The panels are made by Silicon Energy in Marysville and are very likely the most durable panels in the world. The National Renewable Energy Lab has been doing destructive testing of solar modules since last December and the top 200 manufacturers in the world have all failed at this point and the Silicon Energy panels have outlasted them all.

Snohomish PUD’s Solar Express program can provide at least $10,000 in rebates for our system. And we can sell the renewable energy credits (the solar attributes) for $.04 per kilowatt hour. The City of Edmonds will get all the electricity the system produces for a price that is almost 40 percent below what it is paying now. The City will also receive a modest annual roof lease payment and will most likely have the opportunity to buy the system in 2020 for a generously discounted price.

All Edmonds residents will have the opportunity to learn about solar electric power generation through the interactive kiosk that will be installed at the Frances Anderson Center. It will display real-time output of the system as well as cumulative data for the current day, the preceding week, the past month and the year to date.

The co-op will pay for engineering review of the system’s possible impact on the Anderson Center’s structural integrity to ensure no compromise. The co-op will maintain insurance that covers any possible damage to the building and contents in excess of current coverage.  There is even a bond that would pay for removal of the system if the Co-op defaults on its contract and the City wants the system taken down. The Edmonds City Council deliberated long and hard to make sure that no liability would fall on the City. And the Co-op was cooperative on all accounts. Tangerine Power is developing the project in partnership with Sustainable Edmonds and Sunergy Systems. The Co-op is owned and run by its members.

This is a golden opportunity for Snohomish PUD customers and the City of Edmonds to bring federal and state money into our area while being great stewards of our planet by creating clean, renewable, secure, reliable, locally produced, locally-owned solar power.

Please join us — or get more information — by visiting www.tangerinepower.com/edmonds.

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