Category: Community Solar

Community Solar – One Year Later

IMG_4977In Seattle, energy rates are low and the skies are often cloudy. Not ideal conditions for investing in solar energy. To make things even more challenging, we decided to put an array atop the Holiday Apartments, one of CHH’s low-income housing tax credit properties with a complicated ownership structure.

The Holiday Apartment’s 26 kW solar array started generating power in December 2014. The first community solar array on an affordable housing building in Washington State, it is a pilot with Seattle City Light to counter the notion that green energy is the province of the wealthy elite.

Community Solar is crowd-funded solar generation that allows individuals and businesses to invest in and receive benefits from a system located on a community-based facility. Instead of installing their own rooftop system, participants purchase a piece of a system that’s located elsewhere and right-sized for their budgets. It allows people who can’t or don’t want to invest in their own system to reap the benefits of solar, including renters and those who can’t afford the upfront costs.

The Holiday Apartments community solar array was made possible by upfront financing and administration by Seattle City Light. For as little as $150, City Light utility customers purchased 925 “solar units” of the Holiday Apartments array, which entitled them to a portion of the production payments and the value of the electricity produced at a “community solar rate.”  The bite-sized units were sized to return $150 back to the customer over the life of the program, plus a little extra.

Thanks to a sunny year, the array exceeded year-round productivity expectations by more than 20%. In the first 12 months, the Holiday Apartments installation produced enough energy to power three homes for a year. Take a look at this nifty dashboard for real time solar data.

Customers told us that they loved the triple bottom line nature of community solar. Through their small financial investment, they were helping to reduce the long-term operating costs of affordable housing while also supporting clean, local solar power.

In the fall, just as we were developing a strategy for expanding community solar to more affordable buildings, City Light made an announcement that put our plans on hold. Rapid adoption of solar in Seattle, increased production due to sunny weather, and decreasing electricity sales meant that City Light would reach the state-imposed cap for solar production incentives much earlier than originally thought, likely sometime in 2016. Customers were told to expect a proportional 31% reduction in incentive payments. This means that Holiday Apartment community solar participants may not make their money back.

With this uncertainty, came a re-evaluation of how we might bring solar to more affordable housing buildings. There are a number of feasible concepts, such as third party owned systems and direct ownership, but community solar would be difficult under the current conditions.

That’s why we’ve joined with solar industry allies, affordable housing advocates, and solar customers to work to improve and expand the state production incentive structure and support clean energy policies that will better serve the needs of the affordable housing sector.  We will be tracking important solar legislation this year and will be advocating in Olympia for outcomes that expand the available options for solar deployment on affordable housing. We encourage you to join us in these efforts to enable low income access to clean energy benefits and ensure a bright energy future for all.

Spring Equinox: Launch the Solar Season!

HAPPY SPRING!

Today marks the Spring or Vernal Equinox—the first official day of spring and the start of more sunshine!

Let’s launch this Solar Season by showing (and renewing) our commitment to our natural resources and the health, vitality and resilience of our communities.

solar panels

Looking ahead, the days will be getting longer, the air warmer, the sun shinier…And that means that NOW is the perfect time to sign up for Community Solar!

One way to do that is to participate in a local Community Solar project, located right here in Capitol Hill. We talk about this a lot, but right now it’s at a critical stage: we’re close to 80% sold, but we need YOUR support and participation to make this project a success and get our last 200 units sold

SIGN UP TODAY!

(All enrollment is done directly through Seattle City Light; you’ll need your account number!)

By buying into this “community array” you are joining your neighbors in collectively putting your consumer power behind your values and showing that Community Solar works and matters in Seattle. Everyone should have access, information and a stake in a sustainable energy future and this is one step in that direction.

Learn more about the project and view real-time data from the system here.

This is your chance to participate in and support solar at a size and price that works for you. 

Sign up…

sign_up_now

To show your commitment for clean, local, renewable energy

To learn more and actively participate in local solar

To offset your energy use and earn credit back on your City Light bill

To support the first Community Solar project on affordable housing

To invest your money locally

…the list goes on!

 

If you’ve already signed up, consider buying another unit or passing on the information to friends and families!

“I just signed up for #CommunitySolar on Capitol Hill. Live in Seattle? You should, too! http://www.seattle.gov/light/solarenergy/commsolarcurrent.asp @HillEcoDistrict.”

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Read more about the goals of the project and the broader work of the EcoDistrict and feel free to get in touch if you’d like to learn more or get involved!

Check out facebook and twitter for all the updates.

Community Solar Update!

UPDATE: ALL SOLD!  All 925 units in our Community Solar project in Capitol Hill have now been sold. Thanks to Seattle City Light and all who signed up and supported the project. If you’re interested in learning more check out City Light’s Community Solar page or the project descriptions on our website.

thermometer again

Thanks to everyone who made this project possible!

solar on holiday

The 26kW system located atop the Holiday Apartments went LIVE in late November and has been producing clean, locally generated, renewable energy for the grid ever since! You can view real-time data from the system here.

THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO SIGNED UP!

If you’ve already signed up, spread the word to your neighbors, friends and family! Consider sharing on facebook, twitter or via email.

 Shout out to our new Solar Sponsors!

Community Solar is a way for residents to participate and receive the benefits of solar without having their own solar arrays on their roof—and in this case also supports a great cause! Here’s how it works:

  1. Buy Solar Units: Any City Light customer can sign up, starting at $150
  2. Get Paid Back: Earn your investment back via credits on your bill until 2020
  3. Feel Good: This project produces clean energy, supports the regional economy (all of the system components and labor are locally sourced!), and will be donated to Capitol Hill Housing in 2020 to reduce the long-term operating costs of affordable housing.

Shout out to our new Solar Sponsors!

 THANK YOU to our new EcoDistrict Solar Sponsors A&R Solar, Central Co-opRainbow Natural Remedies, Capitol Cider, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice CreamRhein Haus, Poquitos, Eagle Rock Ventures, Capitol Hill Housing and RockBox!

These EcoDistrict Solar Sponsors have made significant investments in Community Solar–offsetting their own electricity use with a local solar project and directly supporting broader neighborhood sustainability and affordability!sponsor update
 These local businesses have stepped up to support local solar generation and affordable housing! Will your business be next?

Lets go #Community Solar!become a solar sponsor

Community Solar is a way for residents, businesses and community organizations to participate and receive the benefits of solar without having their own solar arrays on their roof—and in this case also supports a great cause!

This project produces clean energy, supports the regional economy (all of the system components and labor are locally sourced!), and will be donated to Capitol Hill Housing in 2020 to reduce the long-term operating costs of affordable housing.

Becoming a Solar Sponsor

Community Solar Update!

We’re over half way there! Thanks to your enthusiastic support, we’ve passed the half way mark—over 513 units of our Community Solar array have been sold! The 26kW system located atop the Holiday Apartments went LIVE in late November and (even with our

gray weather) has been producing clean, locally generated, renewable energy for the grid ever since! You can view real-time data from the system here. Want to join in on the fun? Sign up today (starting at $150)! Community Solar is a way for residents to participate and receive the benefits of solar without having their own solar arrays on their roof—and in this case also supports a great cause! Here’s how it works:

  1. Buy Solar Units: Any City Light customer can sign up, starting at $150
  2. Get Paid Back: Earn your investment back via credits on your bill until 2020
  3. Feel Good: This project produces clean energy, supports the regional economy (all of the system components and labor are locally sourced!), and reduces the long-term operating costs of affordable housing.

sign_up_now

Follow us on facebook or twitter for all the updates!

 

Become a Solar Sponsor!

Know a local business or community organization interested in supporting solar and affordable housing? The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict invites local businesses and institutions to participate in the Capitol Hill Community Solar Project as “Solar Sponsors.” This is your chance to support neighborhood sustainability, get recognized for your contribution and earn back your investments via credits on your electricity bill!

See our current solar sponsors!

This is a limited time opportunity. For purchasing 7 or more solar units before March 15th, Solar Sponsors will receive the following recognition benefits:

This sponsorship is an investment via your electric bill that will be repaid to your business between now and June 2020–thus you can gain the benefits of sponsorship while earning your money back AND supporting a great community project!

Become a Solar Sponsor

For more information on the program (and to sign up as a sponsor or an individual!) visit City Light’s Community Solar page.

You can find additional sponsorship information for the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict here or get in touch with Joel Sisolak at JSisolak@capitolhillhousing.org.

Hill Wonk

I’m pretty excited to be the newest “Hill Wonk” columnist for CHS Seattle.  Here’s a link to my first column. A brief excerpt below.

 

solar installWhy should we care about a little solar project? 90% of the electricity we use in Seattle is from hydroelectric dams, including City-owned dams on the Skagit, Pend Oreille and Cedar Rivers.  As energy sources go, hydro is already low carbon and renewable. You might say, “90%, that’s great!  A solid ‘A-minus!’”

But where does the other 10% come from? Some of it is wind power, but about half is nuclear and coal fired energy purchased from Bonneville Power Administration by City Light. Nuclear and coal power bought and sold by the “nation’s greenest utility?!”

We can and should do better. Seattle needs to stop importing BPA’s dirty power and become a net exporter of clean energy to cities more heavily reliant on nuclear, coal and oil.  This can happen, even as our city continues growing, via conservation and investment in solar. With a mix of private and public investment, our whole city could begin to “spin the dial backwards” as we send solar and hydro electrons streaming out of Seattle.

In Capitol Hill, we are helping to lead this (counter)revolution. A 25kW system isn’t much, but it’s a promising start. The Holiday Apartments array is City Light’s 3rd community solar project and its first on Capitol Hill.

EcoDistrict Update – October

Welcome to our monthly update!

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday(image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday (image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

It’s been a busy few weeks – We moved our office to 12th Avenue Arts, launched a community solar program (more below), and unveiled this website!

Monthly updates are new, too. Our mini-dispatches will feature the latest news from the EcoDistrict. We promise to keep it short – with important info and clear invitations to action.

Let us know what you think!  If you like what you see, please share with your friends and colleagues. If you have suggestions on content you’d like to see here, send them our way.


Community Solar is Launched

Our biggest news is the official launch of Capitol Hill Community Solar, a collaborative venture with Seattle City Light. You may have heard about it in the Seattle Weekly or Capitol Hill Seattle blog. You can “buy in” to the program for as little as $150 spread across your next two electric bills. The more solar units you buy, the more you’ll benefit affordable housing, local jobs and the growing clean energy sector AND the more you stand to save on your electric bill.

takeaction  Enroll in Community Solar today

NOTE: You’ll need your Seattle City Light account number to sign up. If you don’t have your account number handy, there’s a phone number on the page you can call to get it during business hours. Once you enter your account number, you’ll be able to choose to support the Capitol Hill project.

Community Solar — Capitol Hill is Launched!

You’ve been thinking, when will they launch that community solar deal so I can buy in? You waited patiently until your patience started to strain. Is today the day?, you wondered. Where can I sign up!? WTF?! Easy does it! The wait is over. You can give your twiddled thumbs a rest and sign up at Seattle City Light’s

community solar page. Here’s the URL in case you want to share it with friends. http://www.seattle.gov/light/solarenergy/commsolarcurrent.asp Sun, sun, sun, here it comes Sun, sun, sun, here it comes Sun, sun, sun, here it comes Sun, sun, sun, here it comes Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

sun clock on holiday-image CHS

Sun clock on the side of the Holiday Apartments – Image CHS

Image: William Wright
Image: William Wright

 

O’zapft is!

prosit

Celebrating my Bavarian roots (mother’s side) with Dad and brother at the East Patrick Street Fairgrounds in Frederick, Maryland.

At high noon on September 20th, the Mayor of Munich tapped the first keg and officially opened Oktoberfest with the traditional cry of “O’zapft is!” (“it’s tapped!”) So began another 16-day international celebration of hard drinking and tube-shaped meats.

Germans take their beer very seriously. Since the Middle Ages, beer purity laws have strictly limited both the ingredients (water, malted barley, hops and yeast) and process allowed for brewing. And their beers are damn good, some would say unrivaled, because the Teutons take it so damn seriously. The same can be said for German cars, soccer teams, and of course, sausage.

Through focused investment, the Germans are now unrivaled in solar energy as well. This seems an unlikely technology focus for a nation that has a not-so-sunny climate similar to Seattle’s.  Actually, it’s more similar to Alaska’s. There’s a reason Germans go to Greece to vacation and not the reverse.  So, what gives?  Are they betrunken

No, they’re focused.  Germany’s Energiewende, or “energy transformation,” aims to power the country entirely on renewable sources by 2050. By the end of 2012, Germany had installed about 30 gigawatts of photovoltaics. During the summer, solar generation now provides close to 50 percent of the country’s electricity.

How is a country with less sunshine than our cloudiest state kicking US ass in solar? Policy is a big factor. The German government has heavily subsidized renewables for years. Now that solar power has a solid foothold, Germany can ease off the subsidy pedal.

Here in the States, “soft costs” remain the biggest obstacle to competing in the renewables sector. But there’s hope for us, according to Kiley Kroh at Climate Progress:

America’s own German-style solar boom may be just around the corner. Residential solar installations in 2012 reached 488 megawatts — a 62 percent increase over 2011 installations. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently told Greentech Media that solar is growing so quickly, “it could double every two years.” He continued that other renewable sources will supplement solar, “but at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.”

Community Solar in the EcoDistrict

Here in Seattle, our weather is better suited for solar generation than Germany’s. Seattle City Light has been building community solar projects on some of the City’s landmarks—Jefferson Park, the Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo.

Now they’re planning to build one in the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict atop the Holiday, one of Capitol Hill Housing’s

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday(image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

Rendering of the soon-to-be installed solar panels atop the Holiday(image: Bonneville Environmental Foundation)

affordable apartment buildings in partnership with the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation. With capital funding from SCL, the Foundation has contracted A&R Solar to put a 25.92 kW photovoltaic system on the roof of the Holiday. Construction should be complete in November.

Community solar is a democratization of solar power – making it affordable as an investment to even lower and moderate income Seattle families.  “Solar units” of $150 per unit will be available soon for purchase via the Seattle City Light website.  Then, based on how much the array atop the Holiday produces, the utility will credit investors on their electrical bills through the year 2020. We expect that investors will be paid back in full.

From the Seattle City Light website:

Seattle City Light pays to build and maintain a large solar array in a location optimally situated for solar exposure and chosen for its community appeal. The array generates electricity to the Seattle City Light electric grid, which further diversifies our clean energy power sources. Anyone with a Seattle City Light electric account can sign up.

Each year through 2020, the utility credits participating Community Solar customers for a portion of the power produced by the Community Solar array. Plus, participants receive a Washington State Production Incentive specifically designed for Community Solar customers, which is double the production incentive paid to individual customers who generate solar electricity on their homes.

The Washington Production Incentive is what makes this program go.  It is a subsidy, so if you’re like Mitt Romney and hate solar subsidies, this program isn’t for you.  But if you think the Germans may be on to something with their Energiewende and believe as I do that it’s time to get serious about renewable energy, then INVEST TODAY.  (Note: you must have a Seattle City Light account #).

Another reason to buy solar units at the Holiday: in July 2020, ownership of the array will transfer to Capitol Hill Housing and will provide approximately 25,000 kWh of free clean power annually to offset the considerable cost of providing affordable housing on Capitol Hill.

Invest today!

Prosit!