THE WORD ON THE STREET? SOLAR!
by Michael VanDerwater

The word is out that Oregon is sunny enough for solar. In fact, Oregon has a better solar resource than Germany and Japan (the biggest markets in the world), and going solar is a very smart move in light of rising energy costs and concerns about climate change. More than 400 residential solar electric and solar water-heating systems were installed around Oregon in 2007 alone. Energy Trust of Oregon reported a 40 percent increase in solar electric installations in 2007 and a near doubling of solar water-heating installations as compared with 2006.

Because of this increased interest in solar, four Oregon organizations have teamed up to help Oregonians learn about and install solar energy systems. The Solar Now! campaign pools the resources of Solar Oregon, the Oregon Department of Energy, Energy Trust of Oregon, and the City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development to connect Oregonians with the resources and assistance they need to choose solar energy. For more details about free Solar Now! workshops, go to www.solarnoworegon.org.

Solar Energy Basics and Costs

The two most common solar energy systems you can add to your home or business are solar water heating and solar electric. A solar water-heating system preheats the water that goes into your existing water heater, which reduces the amount of gas or electricity your water heater consumes. A solar electric system generates electricity that can be used throughout your home, which reduces the amount of electricity you need to purchase from your power company. When your system generates more electricity than you use, the excess goes into the grid and you receive a credit from your utility.

System prices vary. A typical solar water-heating system costs $6,000–$9,000. For a solar electric system, the cost depends on the size of the system and the ease of installation, with an average cost range of $8,000–$11,000 for each kilowatt (kW) of capacity. However, incentives and tax credits can cover up to half the cost for both types of systems.

Oregon energy tax credits are available for residential and business taxpayers through the Oregon Department of Energy and the Federal government. In addition, cash incentives are available from Energy Trust of Oregon for eligible Oregonians. Water-heating incentives through Energy Trust are available to Oregon customers who heat their water with electricity from Pacific Power or Portland General Electric (PGE), or gas from NW Natural or Cascade Natural Gas. Solar electric incentives are available to Oregon customers of Pacific Power and PGE. If you’re in an area not served by these utilities, cash incentives other than those from Energy Trust may still be available to you. Go to www.solaroregon.org/learn/financialincentives to learn more.

Solar for Your Business

Businesses in Oregon that want to go solar can take advantage of the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC). This covers 50% of the project cost and complements the 30% federal Solar Energy Investment Tax Credit (currently due to expire on December 31, 2008, after which it may drop to 10%; go to www.energytaxincentives.org for the latest information). The BETC can be taken over five years, 10% each year, and applies to both solar electric and solar water heating. When you add Energy Trust’s cash incentives of $1.25 to $1.50 per watt for solar electric installations and 40 cents per kWh for solar water-heating systems, the return on investment is enough to raise eyebrows. Go to www.energytrust.org/solar/index.html for more information on incentives.

Solar Installers and Manufacturing

The Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (oseia.org) has seen a dramatic increase in installers entering the Oregon market, and many of the larger installers from mature California markets have started to set up shop in Oregon. The annual Northwest Solar Expo held in Portland combines a three-day professional expo designed to train and certify new tradespeople with a subsequent two-day public expo connecting the public with solar businesses. In 2008 more than 200 professionals attended the training sessions, and 4,000 people turned out on Earth Day weekend to attend the public expo.

In manufacturing, Oregon has had a great deal of success in attracting clean tech solar businesses. Solar World, Solaicx and Peak Sun—all solar manufacturers—have moved to the Portland area. Solar World acquired a factory—planned to be the largest solar wafer and cell factory in the United States—in Hillsboro, right in the middle of Oregon’s "Silicon Forest," with Intel nearby. Solar World hopes to roll out 500 megawatts of production capacity per year and create 1,000 new clean tech jobs. Solaicx, manufacturing crystalline silicon photovoltaics, has located its operations in north Portland and has plans for an initial run rate of 32 megawatts per year, increasing to a full capacity of 180 megawatts and employing 180 people. Peak Sun, a producer of polysilicon for computer chips and solar panels, plans to employ 50 people and could grow to 500 by 2011 if a proposed expansion is approved.

XsunX and Intel’s SpectraWatt also have announced plans to locate their manufacturing operations here. In addition to this, about 20 other companies expressed interest in Oregon at the April 2008 solar trade show in Germany. While there isn’t an official name for all of this solar development across the state, "Solar Forest" has come up more than once.

In conclusion, yes, the word on the street is true: Oregon receives enough sun for solar. Add to this a very solar-friendly culture, great incentives and a booming clean tech industry, and you may be looking at an image change for Oregon. "Rainy Oregon" seems to have morphed into "Solar Oregon."

Michael VanDerwater is Executive Director of Solar Oregon, a non-profit membership organization providing public education and community outreach to encourage Oregonians to choose solar energy. For more information, visit ww.solaroregon.org

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