Thursday, November 20, 2014

Community Solar -- Watts in it for me?

Solar energy is in the news a lot these days. As greenhouse gas emissions are rising, the cost of solar panels and infrastructure has come down. Many big investment banks have put billions of dollars into renewable energy, including huge investments in solar. This may have prompted you to think about "going solar." But what if putting solar on your own home or business isn't for you? Too much shade? Too expensive? Don't own your own home? Thinking of moving soon? All of these can be barriers to installing solar on your own. However, that doesn't mean you can't go solar. Like a community garden or P-Patch plot that provides garden space for an apartment dweller, a Community Solar array lets renters, condo owners, or those who don't want to buy a whole system get the benefits of a solar array shared by the community. 

Aquarium Solar Panels Fully Installed
Aquarium Solar Panels Fully Installed 
City Light customers who can't or don't want to purchase their own solar systems to add solar to the grid can still receive the benefits that come with owning solar panels, but at a size and cost that works for them. You don't need to own a system, and you don't even need to own a home. Community Solar is about pooling resources -- any City Light customer can buy solar units in a Community Solar project - starting as small as a 28 watt piece all the way up to 3500 watts/3.5 kilowatts (a system size common on a single family home in Seattle). 

How Does the Program Work?

Seattle City Light pays to build and maintain a large solar array in a location optimally situated for solar exposure and chosen for its community appeal. The array generates electricity to the Seattle City Light electric grid, which further diversifies our clean energy power sources. Anyone with a Seattle City Light electric account can sign up to purchase solar units consisting of a share of the total output of the Community Solar array. 

Each year through 2020, the utility credits participating Community Solar customers for their portion of the power produced by the Community Solar array. Plus, participants receive a Washington State Production Incentive specifically designed for Community Solar customers, which is double the production incentive paid to individual customers who generate solar electricity on their homes. These payments, which are based on the customer's participation level, should allow Community Solar customers to recoup all of their Community Solar participation investment during the term of the project and maybe even come out ahead. 

The Seattle Community Solar Story

Seattle's Community Solar roots go back to 2008, when the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a grant to Seattle as one of 25 Solar America Cities. Despite a seemingly less-than-ideal climate for solar power, the department recognized Seattle's solar potential, forward thinking and initiative for solar energy development. Project efforts confirmed that the greatest barrier to widespread solar energy use in Seattle isn't our climate - it's awareness, planning, infrastructure, and economics. Seattle City Light is working to overcome each of those hurdles, and Community Solar is a major step in that plan. 

Jefferson Park Large Shelter
Jefferson Park Large Shelter 
In 2009, the WA State legislature created new renewable energy production incentives for Community Solar which doubled existing incentive rates. Seattle was awarded a second grant from the Department of Energy Solar America Cities Program in 2010. This special project award was specifically for the development and launch of a Seattle City Light community solar program. 

In 2012, Seattle City Light completed its first Community Solar project at Jefferson Park in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Participating customers helped build three new picnic shelters with roofs made of solar electric panels. The site now generates approximately 26,000 kWh of clean, renewable electricity each year, while supplying park visitors with much needed shelters. Live data from Jefferson Park

Community Solar at the Seattle Aquarium opened for enrollment in September of 2013 and sold out the 1850 available units in 6 short weeks. This 44.4 kilowatt system is ideal for its historic waterfront location that hosts more than 800,000 visitors a year (including 40,000 school children), a large south-facing unshaded roof, and its significant contribution to the Aquarium's conservation and sustainability mission. Live Data from theSeattle Aquarium

Seattle City Light's 2014 Community Solar offerings include its 74.79 kilowatt Phinney Ridge Project and its 25.92 kilowatt Capitol Hill EcoDistrict project. Each project brings something special to its host, our community, and of course, the participants. Units are still available in the Phinney Ridge project but we expect them to be gone soon. The Capitol Hill project is just launching and will be an exciting addition to the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, which is partially funded by the City of Seattle and the Bullitt Foundation. Visit our Current Projects page to find out more about the specific projects, and check out our Community Solar FAQs, which can answer questions about any of the projects. 

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