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Tonkon Torp Wins PUC Ruling on Behalf of Third Party Solar-Electric Projects

August 1, 2008
The Oregon Public Utility Commission's ruling yesterday, regarding third party financing of solar energy projects, was precedent setting for the region, says Tonkon Torp attorney David F. White.

White represents the Renewable Northwest Project and the Oregon Solar Energy Industry Association, two of the parties who fought against attempts to interpret utility statutes and PUC rules in a manner that would have dramatically curtailed development of solar projects in Oregon and, by precedent, other states.

"This ruling gives our clients and others the clarification they need in order to continue investing in [small scale commercial] solar energy solutions," said White. "By ruling that third party investors are not utilities subject to PUC regulation and that these type of projects are eligible for net metering, the PUC has provided the means for continued private investment in solar projects." Net-metering allows small, renewable energy owners to transfer the excess energy they generate from their systems back to the utility and receive a credit in return against their energy bill.

As the PUC noted, significant tax credits and incentives, such as net-metering, currently are available to subsidize development of solar and other renewable energy resources. Oregon cities and counties benefit from solar power projects financed by third party investors who can use the subsidies, which are not available to public entities. If those investors were subject to regulation like a utility and unable to benefit from incentives, their interest in financing solar power would likely diminish or disappear.

"Oregon is one of the first states to tackle this issue, but it won't be the last," said White. "Other states are beginning to address the same issues as they look for ways to encourage solar energy development and as the scale of solar development grows. We're delighted to have made a convincing case for enabling third party investment in alternative energy solutions."

White practices energy and telecommunications law with an emphasis on regulatory matters. He is a member of Tonkon Torp's Sustainability Practice Group.