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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Dec. 9, 2023

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Washougal, Camas eye investing in solar project

Cities weigh environmental benefits, cost savings

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Clark Public Utilities launched a community solar project at its Orchards facility in 2015.
Clark Public Utilities launched a community solar project at its Orchards facility in 2015. (Clark Public Utilities) Photo Gallery

Officials in Camas and Washougal are considering participating in a community solar array project spearheaded by the Port of Camas-Washougal and Clark Public Utilities.

Camas City Council members discussed purchasing up to 10 kilowatts from the community solar project during their Aug. 7 workshop.

“We have an invitation from the port (to participate in its) pending solar project, and I would like to have council consider making an investment,” Camas City Administrator Doug Quinn told the council.

Quinn said the city could invest in up to 10 kilowatts, at a cost of $1,700 per kilowatt for a total investment of $17,000.

“That purchase has a 12-year break-even point,” Quinn said. “We will, at that point, begin receiving benefits of that power against our energy bills.”

The port and utility district expect the solar array — which the port plans to install in its Washougal industrial park — to be operational for at least a decade after the city’s break-even estimate, Quinn said.

Under the port’s community solar project, businesses and government entities can purchase up to 10 kilowatts while individuals can buy in to the project for up to five kilowatts’ worth of energy.

Port of Camas-Washougal staff have determined there are five buildings at the port’s industrial park where the community solar panels could be installed.

Some Camas City Council members have questioned the city’s possible solar project buy-in.

Camas Councilmember Jennifer Senescu said on Aug. 7 that she wondered if the project had “some cons to it,” including the 12-year wait to see the benefits of the city’s $17,000 investment.

“So once you realize the benefit, you have to buy again?” Senescu asked during the council’s Aug. 7 workshop.

Quinn explained that the solar panels are expected to produce energy for an additional 13 years after the city hits its break-even point in 12 years.

Camas Councilmember Leslie Lewallen asked Quinn if the $17,000 was in the city’s approved budget.

“No,” Quinn replied, “but I don’t believe $17,000 will be noticed in the $124 million budget we currently have.”

The city of Washougal is already planning to buy in to the solar project, Washougal City Manager David Scott said. Scott said the city of Washougal intends to participate “at the same level that the port is participating” and the level he hopes the city of Camas as well as the Camas and Washougal school districts will choose to participate.

Other entities in Camas-Washougal also plan to take advantage of the solar project and its guarantee for environmentally sustainable, lower-cost utility rates in the future.

Port of Camas-Washougal Commissioner Larry Keister said the Camas-Washougal Rotary Club and the Camas-Washougal Community Chest have each bought into the port’s solar program on behalf of the Inter-faith Treasure House in Washougal to help that nonprofit be better able to afford its high utility costs.

Port commissioners praised the project in January.

“This is such an efficient way to get that size of solar installation into east Clark County,” Port Commissioner Cassi Marshall said in January. “Putting in that large of a system makes it that much more affordable for anybody who wants to participate. The big thing is the scalability, which feeds into the whole equity part of it — people who maybe wouldn’t participate in anything solar in any other way have that option. I’m just really proud of the port for stepping up.”

Matt Babbitts of Clark Public Utilities told port commission members in January that he expects the Port of Camas-Washougal’s solar project could be installed by the end of 2023.

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