Happy Earth Day! Edmonds Solar Cooperative is betting on the sun and our community

Solar panels on the Frances Anderson Center roof.

By Chris Herman and Carlo Voli

Our sun is 4.5 billion years old, without a power outage or a rate increase and in the Northwest, whenever there is a “solar spill” we call it a “nice day.” Using it more is part of most Americans’ energy agenda. But there are many in our region who have a shady roof, segmented, or facing the wrong way, or who rent their home or apartment. Or maybe they’d love to support the expansion of solar energy use, but don’t have $20,000 to put into their home right now. There is a great solution for these situations: Community Solar.

The community solar law passed in 2009 in Washington State gives double state production incentives for community solar projects. To be classified as a community solar project the funds have to come from the community and the solar system has to be built on a municipal, special purpose district or county building.

Community Solar projects are beginning to spring up in a lot of cities in our region such as Ellensburg, Seattle, Bainbridge, Bellevue, Olympia, Edmonds, and others. And they are a great option for many more people because they can get into solar with a lot less of an upfront investment, pool their financial resources with others in their community or region, and build sizable solar systems together. In countries like Germany, this has been going on for quite a number of years and there are even small utility companies that are owned by large groups of common citizens. The generous State and Federal incentives in Germany have resulted in Germany now being the country with the most residential solar capacity in the world. And the interesting thing is that Germany actually gets less sun on an annual basis than Seattle.

A great example of a community solar project in the Puget Sound region that has already been successfully established and continues to grow is the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative. This solar co-op was formed in December 2010 and by August 2011 had built a 4.2-kilowatt solar system on the roof of the Frances Anderson Cultural Center in downtown Edmonds with the participation of 37 co-op members, who were not only individual Washington state residents, including the president of the Edmonds City Council (who will donate any profits) and many other civic-minded citizens. Members also included businesses and organizations such as PCC Natural Markets and the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church.

The co-op members are not in it just for the money, though. The major motivator for most members is to do something good with their money. Clean renewable energy, locally-produced with locally-manufactured equipment and installed by a local company, is a much more attractive option than leaving money in a big bank that does who knows what with it and pays almost nothing for the use. “This is something positive we can do with our money that helps us, the city, the state and our planet” said one prominent co-op member.

The Edmonds Community Solar Co-op is using locally-manufactured solar equipment that stimulates our state’s economy and is selling the power to the City of Edmonds at a 40-percent discount, which helps them in tight financial times.

The co-op is now gearing up for installation of its Phase 2 system in late spring, in time for the long sunny summer days. Any Washington state resident can buy shares of the co-op, called SunSlices, and May 4 is the last day to get them. The co-op now has 62 members from all over the region, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish and the vice president of Plug-in America, among others. Several people even bought SunSlices as gifts for their children and grandchildren to show their “eco-love” and provide ongoing income. A limit of 40 SunSlices per owner has been set in order to stay within the income limits of the state incentive.

People, planet and profit are the triple bottom lines that responsible businesses strive for, and the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative is well on the way to achieving these.

This is just one example of several community solar projects happening in our region and is a sign of the times as we move forward and beyond such a huge dependence on fossil fuels and conventional sources for our energy needs.

Anyone interested in the Edmonds solar co-op can visit the website or Facebook page.

  1. How many failed efforts are required for us to realize that the subject is not viable?

    Many countries that were at the front of solar energy have severely cut back or abandoned the effort. It is more expensive than current energy and in fact dirtier than the current production process.

    How many tax dollars will we throw away on an immature technology.

  2. Jaime, Germany cut back on solar because it was succeeding so well, it had matured and the nation needed to move on to other things. All the fossil fuel energy originated as solar. It was stored for millions of years and we are rapidly depleting it. What is left is getting more and more expensive to find and extract, at an increasing cost to our environment. I’m sure that there were people like you who bemoaned the demise of whale oil 200 years ago and thought that petroleum oil was an ‘immature technology.’ We have to keep moving forward, not backward.

  3. Jaimie,
    I wonder where you got the idea that solar is dirtier than oil, coal, nuclear and gas electricity generation? And if you take into account the true costs of conventional electricity generating processes, such as resource depletion, pollution, environmental degradation, global climate change and the wars, then solar is already the clear winner in the least cost calculations.
    If you want to talk about throwing away tax dollars, then how about focusing on subsidizing the oil industry which is still posting record profits while paying no taxes and even getting subsidies.

  4. Solar is the right thing to do. Far too many benefits for the long term. Petro products have really dirtied up our planet.

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