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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Port of Camas-Washougal solar project planned in partnership with Clark Public Utilities

Community grid to be at industrial park

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark Public Utilities’ community solar project is on track to more than double its current electric generation.

After more than a year of discussions, utility commissioners on Tuesday signed an interagency agreement with the Port of Camas-Washougal for Community Solar East, which would establish a 799-kilowatt solar grid at the port’s industrial park.

“We believe there is strong demand, and we will be able to sell this project,” said Matt Babbitts, the utility’s energy resources program manager, during the meeting.

Traditionally, solar arrays have been installed on individual homes that are properly fitted and positioned in sunny areas. A community model, by comparison, provides a large collection of solar panels from which utility customers can purchase units in exchange for annual credit.

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Clark Public Utilities has more information about its Community Solar program at www.clarkpublicutilities.com/community-environment/what-we-do/green-programs/community-solar/

Community Solar East is large enough that Clark Public Utilities can lower the price per watt compared to the cost of a solar array on a building rooftop, making it cost effective for those who want to participate, he said.

Five solar energy systems will be installed across five Port of Camas-Washougal buildings and are expected to generate 918,850 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

The port’s community solar projects are an addition to Clark Public Utilities’ own five projects, established in 2015, that are centralized at its operations center in Orchards. More than 700 customers have joined the system, which generates about 319,000 kilowatts annually and powers about 30 homes.

Clark Public Utilities and the Port of Camas-Washougal’s interlocal agreement authorizes the utility to use the port’s solar at no cost for 25 years, the lifespan of the system. Instead, it’s paid for by voluntary community members.

Historically, it has been successful — and competitive. The utility’s first community solar project in Orchards sold out on its first day of sale, and the following four sold out in less than a month, according to the utility.

The project — estimated to cost $1.4 million for equipment and installation — should be completed by the end of the year. Clark Public Utilities spokesman Dameon Pesanti said the utility will cover upfront development costs for Community Solar East, with in-kind matching between the organizations for staff costs.

A return on investments will take roughly 12.5 years, the halfway point of the system’s expected lifespan, according to Babbitts.

There are three customer classes that can take part in the community solar project: residential, business and government entities. Those who opt in earn energy-generation credits on their electricity bills based on the number of units they purchase through the program.

Babbitts said 300 kilowatts are reserved for residential customers, 150 kilowatts each for businesses and government agencies, and the remaining 199 kilowatts are kept for low-income participants. Prices will be determined later this summer after a contractor is chosen.

Washington State University’s energy program manages incentives for qualifying community solar projects that benefit low-income individuals and service providers, such as Clark Public Utilities. Operation Warm Heart, the utility’s donor-funded program to aid low-income customers, will be the source for annual energy credits, which will subsequently increase the amount the program receives.

Port of Camas-Washougal CEO David Ripp said Community Solar East is an additional step the organization has taken to become more sustainable.

Community Solar East came after the port collaborated with New Buildings Institute, a Portland-based energy performance nonprofit, in 2022 to compile resources to help agencies and businesses reduce their carbon footprint. The document outlines energy efficiency, electrification in buildings, renewable energy and electric vehicle charging, as reported by the Camas-Washougal Post-Record.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer