Energy Adviser: Clark County residents buy into solar

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• Five separate ground-mounted systems, total size: 319 kilowatts.

• More than 700 participants purchasing between 1 and 100 units.

• One unit consists of one-twelfth a solar panel and costs $100.

• Average number of units purchased: 10.

• Five separate ground-mounted systems, total size: 319 kilowatts.

• More than 700 participants purchasing between 1 and 100 units.

• One unit consists of one-twelfth a solar panel and costs $100.

• Average number of units purchased: 10.

More than 700 county residents now own a piece of a solar power generator. They did it the easy way. Instead of starting with exhaustive research to analyze solar equipment specs or worrying if the weight of the panels might collapse their roof, they bought units of the Clark Public Utilities Community Solar project.

The cost to build the solar array is shared, and participants receive state incentives and utility credits to recoup the cost.

“Community solar programs make good sense,” said Matt Babbitts, energy services project manager for the utility. “They offer opportunities for customers to participate in renewable energy without the big upfront investment. And all residential customers were eligible to participate.” Seattle and Spokane have offered similar community solar opportunities that were met with high demand.

Last spring, following board approval, Clark Public Utilities sent out a competitive bid request for building the first community solar project on the southeast corner of its Operations Center in Orchards on the corner of 117th and Padden Parkway. Seattle-based A&R Solar won the contract for the nearly 75 kW system, the largest Community Solar project allowed by state law.

When units of that project sold out in just one day, the utility went to bid on four more projects, which all sold out within weeks. A waiting list was created and customers were sold units as they became available. Units of all five projects, which began generating energy at the end of July, are now fully allocated.

“We had a big plan to market the program and, in the end, we didn’t need any of it,” Babbitts said. “The community solar project was so popular, units sold out in days. We’re now at our max for state incentives so we can’t build more unless the law changes, and we still have a waiting list.”

All five projects are built adjacent to one another at the utility’s Orchards location. Combined, there’s 319 kW of Community Solar on the site.

How it works

Residential customers were invited to buy units of the Clark Public Utilities-funded Community Solar project for $100, equal to one-twelfth of a solar panel, up to 100 units. Any residential customers — homeowners or renters — were eligible to participate and reap the benefits.

Using Washington-produced products qualified community shareholders for a Washington State Production Incentive designed specifically for Community Solar customers. This incentive, $1.08 per kW generated, is double the incentive paid to customers who install solar panels on their homes. Additionally, the utility provides a generation credit equal to the current electric rate.

Project owners will receive the state incentive through 2020, and the utility generation credits for the life of the array (about 20 years). The estimated payback time for a project owner is less than four years. If participants move within the county, the solar units can follow them to the new home. If a shareholder moves out of the county, the utility can buy back the units at a prorated price, or the customer can donate them to another Clark Public Utilities account holder.

The construction effort included only Washington companies. A&R Solar installed the five ground-mounted panels using racking panels from Sunmodo, made here in Vancouver, and solar panels and inverters from Bellingham-based Itek.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.