Sun’s Out? Let’s Talk Solar

By Sam DeBaltzo

With the Oregon sun finally poking its head out, it’s a good opportunity to revisit the current state of solar energy. If you’re a homeowner or renter in metropolitan Portland, I’d imagine that, like me, you have received periodic visits from solar door-to-door salespeople. Although I’m hesitant to take up a “free conversion to solar” offer from a salesperson who can’t point me to a legitimate website for their company (I can’t be the only one that’s happened to), the reality is solar options are becoming more and more available on a residential and commercial basis.

Solar is clearly making traction in Oregon, and recently the largest planned solar facility in Oregon received approval to start construction. Creativity is vital as this continually developing energy field looks for ways to be more cost- and space-efficient. Oregon has committed to promoting solar energy, and developers seem to be taking note.

But can solar energy really reach communities? The Oregon Community Solar Program, established by Oregon statutes and regulations, was enacted with the goal of making solar energy available to individual residences and businesses. As a simple overview, a solar facility is constructed on a community building or undeveloped area. The energy generated by these facilities is sold to one of Oregon’s “IOUs” (investor owned utilities – PGE, Pacific Power, and Idaho Power), which can then be passed through to the utility provider’s customers, who subscribe to the program via monthly payment. Subscribers then receive a credit to their monthly utility bill for the amount of solar energy generated in proportion to their subscription. Perhaps most significant, this program is available to all individuals and businesses within the area, including renters, provided that they have accounts through one of the IOUs. Additionally, low income options are available, with varying requirements of low-income availability included in connection with each project’s approval. It will be interesting to see how the Oregon Community Solar Program plays out in the long-run. Numerous projects are in construction with operations expected to commence in 2022. As with all things, financial feasibility will be the driving force for all developers, but the possibilities are great, and I’m hopeful for continued interest in promoting a cleaner, yet efficient Oregon.