Some Of America’s Best Solar Incentives Are In Washington (State)

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Originally published in the ECOreport.

County Solar Panel Installation – Snohomish County, WA, CC by SA, 2.0
County Solar Panel Installation – Snohomish County, Washington, CC by SA, 2.0

An “emergency rule” that went into effect on July 1 is expected to increase the average solar installer’s business by 10% to 30%. The state Building Code Council made it possible for homeowners to install rooftop solar power systems without an engineer’s approval. This saves them between $500 to $2,500 in fees, and eliminates up to eight weeks of waiting time. It is the latest of the Evergreen state’s policies meant to encourage business. Some of America’s best solar incentives are now in Washington.

There is no sales tax on solar electric and solar hot water systems under 10kW in Washington.

The state is purchasing solar generation at $0.15/kWh until July 2020, and this amount increases if the equipment is manufactured in Washington. That rate is $0.18/kWh if you are using a locally produced inverter, $0.36/kWh if it includes the module, and $0.54 if the entire system was manufactured in Washington.

Customers of Seattle City Light are allowed to invest in community solar projects and credit the energy on their utility bill. This program recently funded an installation on the city’s aquarium.

These incentives are on top of the 30% federal government tax credit that is available throughout the US.

As for the most recent incentive, removing the need for an engineering stamp, the rule-making order explains:

The current code language serves as a barrier to the growth of the residential PV installation business in Washington state. Currently many jurisdictions require costly engineering reports which delay permit approvals and result in additional fees. Under these circumstances some potential customers choose not to purchase and install the systems; some installers avoid doing business in some parts of the state due to extremely limiting regulations. Relaxing this requirement would provide additional capacity and allow the industry to continue to thrive in Washington state.

 New solar panels on an old barn west of Snohomish, WA. - Robert Ashworth, CC by SA, 2.0
New solar panels on an old barn west of Snohomish, Washington. – Robert Ashworth, CC by SA, 2.0

Naturally, there are some requirements, which are found in most installations.

  1. The solar photovoltaic panel system shall be designed for the wind speed of the local area, and shall be installed per the manufacturer’s specifications.
  2. The ground snow load does not exceed 70 pounds per square foot.
  3. The total dead load of modules, supports, mountings, raceways, and all other appurtenances weigh no more than four pounds per square foot.
  4. Photovoltaic modules are not mounted higher than 18 inches above the surface of the roofing to which they are affixed.
  5. Supports for solar modules are to be installed to spread the dead load across as many roof‐framing members as needed, so that no point load exceeds 50 pounds.

According Environment California’s study “Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution,” Washington has between 5 and 25 times as much solar potential as its energy needs.

One Washington’s most impressive solar stories concerns a Seattle home that was designed to obtain 96% of its energy from a solar+battery system. The new owner took possession last February and despite the fact that it was mid-winter, found the system was adequate. This was emphasized when the switch connecting the house’s connection to the grid was unwittingly left “off.” It was three days before the mistake was discovered.

Sailboat moving under Deception Pass Bridge in Washington State - Photo by Patrick McNally, Molokai Hawaii, CC by SA, 2.0
Sailboat moving under Deception Pass Bridge in Washington State – Photo by Patrick McNally, Molokai Hawaii, CC by SA, 2.0

The headquarters of one of the world’s leading suppliers for off-grid and hybrid systems, Outback Power, is in Arlington, Washington.

One of its solar+battery customers, who owns a small house in Snohomish, wrote: “It feels great to tell people that we only purchase $1 of electricity per day during the winter and produce most (if not all) of our power during the summer months.”

Seattle did not make the Environment California list of “Top 20 Solar Cities” when the book came out last April. However, Seattle City Light’s customers were producing up to 7 MW, as of the end of 2013, in an area that extends beyond the city.

It will be interesting to see how far Washington progresses the next time we see an evaluation.

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales

6 thoughts on “Some Of America’s Best Solar Incentives Are In Washington (State)

  • This is important. Seattle has some of the least solar friendly weather in the world (not as bad as Berlin) and it is still reasonable to go almost completely off grid there. With feed in tariffs it is economically appealing as well as just good green attitude. Vancouver to the north is also coming along but nowhere near as pv friendly as Seattle. If you want to see a splendid net plus solar house in a urban area look up “CMHC Harmony house Burnaby ” on youtube. A 20 episode feature on the details and building of a gorgeous cutting edge 4700 sq ft house with separate suite.

    • Let me add that the series is made by “sustainability television”. Harmony house series.

  • Pretty ironic since they have some of the worst solar resources in the nation.

    • Washington isn’t just the land of rain and fog. East of the Cascades, there are big areas of high desert with good sun:

      These areas have peak electrical loads for summer cooling and see long days in summer thanks to the high latitude. They are also integrated into the Bonneville Power Administration electrical system, so if they have an electrical surplus it goes to southern California via the Pacific DC Intertie. It’s a good match of solar generation to location and to seasons.

    • Solar resources aren’t that bad. Possibly more of a hindrance is the relatively low cost of electricity in the state.

  • Sounds great UNTIL you try pricing out a system built entirely in Washington State. How many inverters/panels brands are built in Washington that you can name?
    Until Washington opens up to the free market, buying or selling solar solutions is going to be a dead business here. With ALEC alive and well in our legislature, you are not going to see much change…

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