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Community Solar in Olympia, Washington Moves Forward

Community Solar Olympia Farmers Market

The city of Olympia, Washington has approved five new community solar projects, which will be installed at the new Hands-On Children’s Museum; City Hall; the Olympia Community Center; Fire Station #4; and Fir Street Reservoir in 2012.

Community Solar: A Public-Private Partnership

The systems will be deployed through a power purchase agreement with Thurston Solar Management (TSM), a joint venture of Olympia-based PureSolar and Seattle-based Tangerine Power. After previously securing a contract to install a PV system at the Children’s Museum, the group was selected for the additional four projects through a competitive bidding process by the Olympia City Council.

Under the agreement, TSM will install, operate and maintain the equipment for nine years. The city will purchase power generated by the solar arrays at the below-market rate of 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At the end of the contract term, the city can either renew the lease, require the installation to be removed at the company’s expense, or buy the system at its depreciated value.

Washington’s In-State Production Incentives

The projects are made possible by Washington’s unique (some might say “curious”) renewable energy production incentive, which has been in place since 2005. The program is funded through a tax break to utility companies, and pays a base rate of $.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) through 2020. However, investors in “community solar projects” installed on government property can earn up to $1.08 per kWh if they install modules and inverters manufactured in Washington state.

Participation in the community solar projects will be open to all Washington residents. For more information on how community solar programs work, see our previous post about Solar Mosaic.

Currently, Silicon Energy (Marysville) and itek energy (Bellingham) are the only in-state solar equipment manufacturers.

Benefits to Communities

According to TSM Managing Member, Rich Phillips, the five projects will generate nearly $25 million in revenue for WA state manufacturers and installers, and will save the City of Olympia over $1.3 million in avoided utility costs over the next 25 years. “We’re pretty excited about the benefits to the city, but are just as excited about the other assets to the community as a whole,” Phillips said in a statement. “Creating clean, renewable energy on site is an excellent educational tool; a way to reduce our dependence on foreign or dirty fuel; a way to reduce our carbon output and improve our health, and is an endearing legacy to future generations of Olympia residents.”

In addition to these projects, Puget Sound Energy will also make $30,000 available to fund community solar projects in Olympia and Lacey through its voluntary Green Power Program, if it can enroll a total of 1,011 new program participants by the end of this year. According to a news release, the utility only needs to enroll 50 more customers in the program.

Source: The Olympian
Olympia Farmers Market Community Solar picture by Sunset Air

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