Planetarily speaking, you know Seattle’s record breaking warm and dry winter is nothing to boast about. It’s hard not to feel guilty posting sun soaked photos on Facebook while your East Coast friends suffer in a climate change-induced frozen tundra. Since we’re probably on track for more of the same, one guilt-free way to benefit from our sunnier winters is to invest in some local solar energy.
Last year, CHS told you about the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict’s plans for a community-backed solar project at a 10th and E John property owned by Capitol Hill Housing. The solar panels are up and running atop the Holiday Apartment building and around 1,200 units went up for sale last year.
The Capitol Hill Housing site is City Light’s fourth community solar project and has been one of the slowest to sell out. According to Suzanne DuRard, who manages the program for City Light, earlier projects captured many of the customers who were most passionate about solar.
Any Seattle City Light ratepayer can buy the solar units, which go for $150 each. The investment translates into about $32 per unit in annual credits on your City Light bill. Officials expect that by 2020, participants in the Capitol Hill project will recoup their investment and then some as savings on energy bills. There are currently about 200 units left for sale.
While you don’t have to live near the 26 kW project, Capitol Hill Housing is targeting nearby residents to get as much neighborhood participation as possible — another reason the project has taken longer to sell out. While the credits are transferable anywhere inside City Light’s service area, A five year investment in local energy has been a tough sell to Capitol Hill’s younger residents, DuRard said.
“We’ve just had less traction,” DuRard said. “When people find out about it, the response is overwhelmingly positive.”
It’s also tough to sell solar in a city that relies so heavily on hydroelectric power. But as Capitol Hill Housing’s Joel Sisolak pointed out last year, 10% of the city’s electricity is generated from non-hydro sources that include nuclear and a small percentage of coal — sources that could be offset by solar.
In addition to benefitting from unseasonably sunny weather, there’s another reason to jump on the project soon: the state’s Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Payment Program is set to expire in 2020. Customers buying in after this year will likely have to wait much longer than the current five years to see a return on investment.
Solar advocates are also working to oppose HB 2045 in the state legislature. The bill would stop offering a “net metering” tax incentive for energy that gets pumped back into the grid once such sources reach a certain threshold for utilities.