Now, more than any other time, might be the best opportunity for Snoqualmie residents to install solar panels on their homes. The city of Snoqualmie is partnering with Northwest Wind and Solar and Northwest SEED (Sustainable Energy for Economic Development) to bring affordable installations of solar energy systems to the community.
Multiple incentive programs are currently running, which add up to approximately a 50-percent discount after the first year.
Nicole Sanders, Associate Planner for the city of Snoqualmie, said that the limited availability of these incentives are getting people to look into solar more actively than ever before.
“I think what’s really bubbling up right now is a sense of urgency because the federal tax credit expires next year, in December of 2016, and so it’s really your last, best chance to get a huge discount on solar,” Sanders said. “So there’s that and the state production incentive, plus no sales tax, plus net metering and the (Solarize WA) discount which is embedded in the pricing.”
The way each incentive has stacked on the other has made this an enticing opportunity for many community members.
“Fifty percent at once is a huge deal and it’s an estimated four-and-a-half to five-year payback if you use Washington-made components,” Sanders said. “There’s almost no investment that I know of that has that quick of a payoff.”
After receiving a grant for this project from the Washington State Department of Commerce, the city
began organizing and spreading the word about the program. Snoqualmie contracted the non-profit organization Northwest SEED to help lead the campaign. Jill Eikenhorst, Project Coordinator at the nonprofit, said they have helped other communities with solar projects and their experience has helped them work with Snoqualmie.
“We are technical advisors for the city, lead the workshop and outreach programs,” Eikenhorst said. “We provide our expertise from our past campaigns, handle registration, and can answer questions people have about solar.”
Northwest SEED staff worked with volunteers to create a request for proposal with solar installers. The group of community members ended up choosing Northwest Wind and Solar as the installer for Snoqualmie.
The city is now organizing workshops for the public to learn about solar energy, how the systems work, the financial realities, and to ask as many questions as they can. The first workshop was Aug. 18 and had a huge turnout, filling the room at Snoqualmie Library. Three more are planned for Sept. 15, Oct. 14, and Nov. 7.
“It was great, we maxed out the room capacity. We had 42 people plus eight presenters, there were 31 households and 24 of them have signed up for site visits, which is incredible. We already have 15 households coming to the next workshop,” Sanders said. “I think it’s going to be a huge success here, which is really exciting.”
Kevin Charap, General Manager at Northwest Wind and Solar, said their site visits consist of checking out the house and setting parameters on what type of system the homeowners want.
Charap said the company also puts together a proposal for the homeowners to look over all the information before they decide if they want to install. The proposal includes a system rating, expected annual kilowatt production, value of electricity produced to show how much energy solar can produce for a low cost, estimate of available incentives, calculating return on investment, and lifetime system savings.
A lot of people assume that maintenance is a big commitment with solar panels but Charap said that a properly installed system could last from 30 to 40 years with minimal maintenance.
“You hose them off one time a year, no moving parts, and when installed correctly with lifetime components there is nothing that breaks or wears down,” he said.
One of the questions they address up front is the common thought that because of the Northwest’s reputation for cloudy skies and rain, this area wouldn’t be good for solar energy. This was addressed by using Germany as an example. Germany is the world leader in solar installations, yet it has 15 percent less sun than we do. If they can do it, so can we.
Snoqualmie isn’t the only city in the Valley that is eligible for solar energy. Some residents from North Bend and other places around the county have also expressed interest.
“I’ve had a lot of people interested from North Bend and nearby county residents like Fall City or people on 384th,” Sanders said. “We specifically asked that the installer have the discount available to those areas as well because it’s such a local resource, we didn’t see a reason why they shouldn’t have that as well. We reached out to North Bend staff and their permitting process is really simplified and they seemed really open to it, so I think it would be roughly the same, plus the installer takes over the permitting for the applicant.”
Sanders said that regardless of doubts that some may have about if solar is right for them, people should come out to the workshops.
“I think no matter a person’s fiscal situation or environmental interests, I think that solar is a really great deal and in this scenario is open for a very limited time,” Sanders said. “So even if you have a hint of curiosity it’s worthwhile to come and hear what the program is about and see if it’s a right fit for you.”
More information on Solarize Snoqualmie is online at solarizewa.org.