Solar project perseveres

Majority of PUD commissioners OK continuing community project

Solar project perseveres

The community solar project in Clallam County remains underway.

Two of three commissioners for the Clallam County Public Utility District opted to continue the 75-kilowatt community solar project after extending the public enrollment deadline because of an initial lack of participation within the original allotted time.

However, by Monday the project had nearly reached the community commitment needed to implement the project and begin to look toward construction.

“Based on the form on the web that customers have filled out, they’ve committed to 96.7 percent commitment to the funding of the community solar project,” PUD power analyst Tyler King told the commissioners at their May 23 meeting. “Right now we have 189 participants and we only need 40 (more units committed) to reach the 100-percent commitment mark.”

King presented four options the board could do in response to project’s status, including: continue the project with more time to market it and reach the full subscription, reduce the overall system size based on available funding, not build the community solar project or place the project on hold until new legislation passes that could reduce the payback time period.

Staff recommended the first option of moving ahead with the project and to allow staff to continue to market it.

“I’m excited we’re about 98 percent subscribed so there’s interest out there and there’s plenty of interest out there,” Mike Howe, Clallam County PUD communications and government relations manager, said. “There’s additional marketing that we can do to increase that and it should be relatively easy to achieve.”

Although his marketing approach has been “light” so far, Howe told the commissioners each time he does a marketing initiative the commitment, or amount of interest, jumps up about 5 percent.

The 75-kilowatt solar system includes a total of 1,200 units, which can be purchased by any Clallam County PUD costumer for $250 per unit. To allow many community members to participate, a maximum of 40 units per participate was set. The unit price includes project costs, such as maintenance and permitting, totaling $300,000.

On Monday, PUD officials reported participation from 189 PUD customers and 1,160 units had been committed.

Customers who participate will receive a credit on their electric bill based on the electricity generated by the project and the number of units purchased. Also, they’ll receive an annual state production incentive of about $15 per unit until June 2020 when the incentive is set to expire unless extended by legislators.

Clallam PUD officials estimate a payback period of 24 years and an overall project life of 30 years.

For example, a four-unit commitment costing $1,000 would result in $245 in state incentives through 2020 and about $874 in generation credit through 2046. By 2046, the potential total return on the investment would equate to about $1,119. Estimates are based on 2016 Clallam PUD residential rates with 3 percent annual rate increases and project solar system production.

Although the monetary return is slight, once constructed the solar system would feed the PUD’s power grid via a renewable energy source and reduce the amount of power purchased from outside providers.

“I don’t believe it’s a good payback but it’s an opportunity to participate in a solar project at the community level without a great deal of expense and we have a number of people that apparently feel that way,” Commissioner Ted Simpson said.

Unlike owners of individual rooftop solar system, Simpson explained, the community solar project allows those Clallam PUD customers that would like to support the overall transition to solar energy, but can’t because of economics or the location of their residence, to contribute.

Sequim residents Izzy and Dorothy Zapata attended the PUD meeting to express their support of the community solar project. For them, instead of getting an economic return on their investment it’s certainly more about the future and environmental stewardship.

“I am not looking at 2046 because I’m not going to be here,” Izzy Zapata said. “So the most important thing for me is that we clean up what we have going and move toward a cleaner environment.”

Although Clallam County PUD sources the majority of its electricity via renewable energy, like hydro, still Izzy Zapata feels it’s important to be “leaders” in the overall effort toward a healthy and sustainable future.

“You pass on the positive,” Dorothy Zapata said.

“I think we all know solar is the renewable preference these days,” Commissioner Will Purser said, while also noting his support to continue the community solar project.

Despite his colleagues’ support, Commissioner Hugh Haffner didn’t give his nod approval to progress the community solar project given the relatively long payback period based on the incentives available to Clallam County. Instead, Haffner would like to put the project on hold until additional legislation is passed in support of ongoing solar incentives.

“I’m more the option four: wait to see if they pass new legislation,” he said.

But, with the majority of the commissioners in support of the project, PUD staff will work toward getting the final participation needed and come back to the commissioners Monday, June 6 with a resolution detailing the project and its construction.

Sharing a space with the district’s Johnson Creek substation, the solar system is expected to be built on PUD-owned property east of Sequim off East Washington Street.

For more information or to enroll in the project, visit www.clallampud.net/communitysolar or call the PUD at 452-9771. Clallam County PUD meetings are generally held at 1:30 p.m., every Monday in the Lake Crescent boardroom, 104 Hooker Road.

 

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.

 

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