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Community solar is coming to Oregon

Posted by Bridget Callahan on June 27, 2018

Sustainable Northwest is helping communities create and design their own community solar projects

Klamath_Solar
Solar is growing in Klamath County

I found myself recently driving along the wheat fields of Klamath County, taking in Mount McLoughlin as the sun beamed down the valley, and was struck by the opportunities surrounding me. New irrigation technologies are providing water and energy savings for local farmers. An abundance of solar and geothermal resources in southern Oregon means new energy generation. And advancements in battery storage can bring grid resilience and increased safety in a natural disaster.

We are on the brink of an energy revolution. That may sound like hyperbole, but, in fact, the signs are all around us. Emerging technologies, innovative finance models, and a focus on affordability and accessibility have fueled a new wave of advancements.  Sustainable Northwest is serving as a leading voice in this rapidly changing space to ensure all Oregonians can benefit from a clean energy economy. 

Sustainable Northwest cultivates partnerships to develop community energy projects around the state
Sustainable Northwest cultivates partnerships to develop community energy projects around the state

One growing opportunity is Oregon’s new community solar program, set to launch in early 2019. Community solar, or solar gardens, were developed as a solution to reduce or eliminate many of the traditional barriers to going solar, and many states having recently developed their own program. Now, as a result of recent legislation through Senate Bill 1547, or “Coal to Clean,” Oregon has developed our own. 

Oregonians overwhelmingly support solar energy, but many face insurmountable obstacles to installing a system on their own rooftops. Limiting factors like shading, roof capacity, upfront financing, and tenant regulations have restricted many new projects and kept associated benefits within a small segment of the population. This program has the opportunity to dramatically change that, rapidly increasing the access and affordability of solar technology for new populations.

Community solar will allow utility customers to own or subscribe into a shared solar array with other community members, delivering clean energy to the grid while customers receive a credit on each utility bill. Anyone can subscribe into a project, whether you’re a residential customer, a local hospital, school, farmer, or business. When designed right, this program will allow communities to maximize local benefit while increasing both the access and affordability of solar to underserved populations. 

There are many varieties of community solar, but all aim to overcome financial and logistical barriers
There are many varieties of community solar, but all aim to overcome financial and logistical barriers. Image courtesy of NREL

Projects and subscribers must be located within Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, or Idaho Power territory, which covers roughly 75% of Oregon’s population. Projects may vary in size from small, neighborhood-scale projects at 25-kilowatts, all the way up to larger 3-megawatt systems. And to ensure this is a community effort, each project must have a minimum of 5 subscribers. Oregon went even further than other states in their mission to ensure an equitable program, with a 10% mandated carve out for low-income customers. 

Sustainable Northwest has been working directly with communities across the state to advance their community solar goals. We’ve done this by bringing in technical assistance, creating strong local partnerships, and driving investments to design and develop community-led projects. Throughout the summer and fall, we will continue to develop and deliver these services so that projects will be “shovel ready” by the 2019 program launch. 

Community solar is just one driver in this sea of energy transformation, but our excitement in this arena comes from the opportunity to create local and tangible economic, ecological, and community benefit. And it’s this triple bottom line that Sustainable Northwest so ardently champions. 

Sustainable Northwest is supporting Hood River County with site assessments for community solar projects
Sustainable Northwest is supporting Hood River County with site assessments for community solar projects

This summer we’ll be hosting workshops and webinars to help communities assess potential community solar site locations, utilizing new GIS mapping tools we have developed. These tools will help determine if a location is viable for solar, and get you started creating your own project. If your community would like to join us or learn more about generating local energy, please contact me, Bridget Callahan, for more information. I can be reached at bcallahan@sustainablenorthwest.org, or 503-756-0494.