Tuesday, June 28, 2022
June 28, 2022

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Local View: Embrace solar power and invest in future


A neighbor recently inquired about the solar panels on my roof. I explained some of the tax advantages of having solar power as best I could. I did not have to sell her on the idea that solar power generation was a good thing in itself.

It did get me to thinking about all of the south- and west-facing roofs on homes in my neighborhood, and by extension, in all of Vancouver. Many of these would be suitable for small-scale power generation, which would be a good thing for Vancouver and the state.

My neighbor was dismayed when I told her about the price tag for getting panels on a roof, which in my case also involved re-roofing as a prerequisite. For the average homeowner, the cost of the installation of panels could be an insuperable price barrier, even with existing federal tax credits, and the state rebate (sadly diminished by the Legislature a few years ago) for power sent back to the grid. That was what made me think of the idea of small power generation direct subsidies.

Back in the 1980s, when solar power was aimed at least primarily in the direction of hot water generation, Seattle City Light had a pilot program for helping homeowners pay some of the cost of installation of solar hot water systems. I bought one. On sunny days I would come home and take a look at the tank thermometer and cheer when we had gotten a good tank of hot water.

Years later, when I took my children back to see the old house we had lived in, the owner invited us in to see the improvements he had made.

I asked him about the solar hot water system, and he said, “still working.”

Without the subsidy I would not have been able to afford to put the system on the roof of the Seattle house. Even so, it was a stretch, but I could do it.

Admittedly, most homeowners who put on solar panels are not likely to recoup their financial outlay in the system, at least not in the short term. Really, it is an investment or a contribution, in a small way, to making our corner of the planet a better place by reducing the need for power production by more carbon intensive methods, such as natural gas or coal-burning generators. While one roof will not make a significant difference to Clark Public Utilities’ total load, 500 or 1,000 roofs really might.

Subsidy helps

A direct subsidy, such as $2,500, could make the difference to many homeowners who would love to put solar panels on the roof, but don’t have the startup capital. Encouraging solar roof panels also has a beneficial ripple effect, both for the Washington companies who produce panels, and for the solar contractors who do the installation and hookup work. And the work would be local.

Since the Legislature just finished its session, there is time to plan for a bill in the next session to give further encouragement to homeowners to make this investment in a less carbon-dependent future. The city may or may not have funds that could be directed toward this project, but it would be a way of moving the city closer toward carbon neutrality, which is a stated goal of city government.

Every small thing we can do to help head off the slow-moving disaster of climate change is a good thing.

Putting solar power on more roofs may be a small thing, but a good step forward.

Mark W. Muenster installed solar panels on two sides of his Lincoln Neighborhood roof in 2017. In  July and August of 2021, the system generated a total of about 1,240 kwh.

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