Community solar in Seattle’s Beacon Hill
Washington state is no solar energy powerhouse, lacking the established installation companies of the Bay Area and the manufacturing muscle of Oregon factories. Lately, though, the Puget Sound area has been home to some interesting new models for letting consumers invest in solar.
On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced a new program to let residents of the Beacon Hill neighborhood buy into a neighborhood solar projects, even if they don’t have roofs themselves. The panels will appear at Jefferson Park in the south-side neighborhood.
Up to 500 residents can pony up $600 for a stake in the solar arrays, which will also serve as rooftops for picnic shelters in the park. That will entitle buyers to a share of the electricity output, which the utility Seattle City Light will transfer as a credit onto their electricity bills. If residents have a surplus electricity credit, they can request a check from the utility at any time, according to City Light’s user agreement. The utility retains ownership of the arrays, however.
"Renewable energy sources like solar provide the opportunity to reduce our impact on the environment and protect the quality of life in our community," McGinn said in a news release. "This is an important step to make solar power more accessible and I commend City Light and Parks for making this sustainable energy option available to our residents."
It’s similar to the model promoted by Tangerine Power, a Seattle company designing user-funded, community-owned solar projects that sit atop community centers or government buildings. In that arrangement, community investors buy an actual ownership stake in the project, Tangerine founder Stanley Florek told me last week.
Both Tangerine’s projects and Seattle’s Beacon Hill project provide ways to invest in solar for people who either don’t own their homes, have shady roofs or don’t have enough capital for a full solar array. I’ve heard recently that a full 50 percent of Seattle residents rent their homes, so maybe it’s no wonder that these models are cropping up here.
"Many people who would like to use solar energy are unable to do so because they live in apartments, condominiums or other homes without space to install the collector panels," Glenn Atwood, City Light conservation resources director, said in a statement. "This community solar project eliminates that barrier and demonstrates that despite our Rain City reputation, solar works in Seattle."