Solar Thermal Renaissance

Posted by Bridget Callahan on August 9, 2016

More Oregon homes will have solar heated water thanks to new state legislation.

Palmer Dobbs installing solar hot water on a home in Union County during the Solarize Union County campaign.

With the passage of sweeping new legislation, Oregon is positioned for a solar thermal renaissance. The 2015 session produced House Bill 2171 which more than tripled the Residential Energy Tax Credit (RETC) from $.60 per first year annual kWh to $2. The tax credit limit was also raised from $1,500 to $6,000 making the solar thermal incentive equivalent to the solar electric (photovoltaic) incentive. This is great news for rural Oregon residents that live outside Energy Trust of Oregon incentive territory, as the state tax credit is the primary incentive available that helps offset the cost of installing solar. 

Solar hot water and the increased tax credit will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming 2016 Fall Energy Symposium, October 13-14, 2016 in Roseburg, Oregon. Sustainable Northwest and our partner Lake County Resource Initiative will be hosting this event, which pulls together the knowledge and connections from the Making Energy Work for Rural Oregon workshop series. Communities will share practical tools to grow local clean energy programs and connect with other like-minded communities around the state. We’ll learn what strategies work and what barriers exist in energy planning, programming, and development. John Patterson, manufacturer of the Sol-Reliant system, was the main proponent of House Bill 2127 and will be speaking on the exciting opportunities now available to homeowners interested in heating their water with solar energy. 

Sponsors of the solar thermal bill were convinced that current solar thermal technology is viable and meets the clean energy objectives of the State. The new incentive is administered by the Oregon Department of Energy who completed its rule making process for the new program that took effect October 1, 2015. 

According to Patterson, “A solar thermal collector is a little bigger than a sheet of plywood and can heat most of the hot water for any home in America”. Patterson made this declaration to the nation’s solar thermal industry at the Solar Power International conference last month in Anaheim, CA. He was invited to speak on Oregon’s new solar thermal incentive in order to encourage other industry leaders and policy makers throughout the United States to model Oregon’s new incentive.

The incentive increases in the sunnier parts of the state that enjoy a higher rate of solar energy, so residential homeowners east of the Cascades and in Southern Oregon will receive a greater incentive. For example, a system that produces 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year in the Willamette Valley would qualify for a $4,000 State tax credit but the same system east of the Cascades would qualify for over $5,000. According to Patterson, “The new law makes solar water heating particularly attractive in the sunnier regions of the state. That was one of the intentions of the bill.” 

During the Solarize Union County campaign of 2012, special pricing of $7,900 was offered to more than a dozen homeowners signing up for solar hot water. At the time, the net cost after incentives was $4,100. Under the new incentive program, Patterson says, homeowners would pay just $1,600. 

To learn more about this new development, join us at the 2016 Fall Energy Symposium October 13-14, 2016 in Roseburg, Oregon. More information can be found here.