Adding a Little Sunshine to Our Mix

The power we provide is 97% carbon-free, meaning it was generated without putting carbon into the air. That last 3% is a mix, often more carbon-free hydropower purchased from utilities in Washington, but the Bonneville Power Administration which sells us our power, assures us nearly none of it comes from burning coal.

We have 98 customers who’ve installed solar power to supplement our already super-clean electricity. But some customers can’t install solar, because they don’t own the home they live in, or the roof isn’t robust enough to support a solar panel system, or the orientation of the home isn’t suited for solar (south-facing is best), or there are too many trees obscuring their roofs.

To support those who want to buy solar power, we’ve been looking at how best to install a “community solar” project, giving customers an opportunity to purchase their own part of the larger system.

We initially looked at installing a community solar project east of Newport. We had land available, and considered putting a ground-mounted system on that property, but the project didn’t “pencil out,” meaning it was too expensive and would take too long for buyers to see a solid return on their investment.

We then looked at the potential for putting a system on the roofs of our two buildings in Florence at the corner of Highways 101 and 126 when we remodeled last year, and made certain they would be ready for solar. We applied for and received a $50,000 grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and will receive a grant of 35% of the purchase and install costs from the Oregon Department of Energy. The system will be 81 kilowatts, costing about $169,700.

This fall, our customers will be able to “buy” up to five panels for about $330 a panel. The energy output of their panels will then offset some of their monthly billed usage. We’ve calculated a payback of 9-10 years for customers to recover their $330/panel investment, and project the system will generate 85,000-90,000 kWh per year for at least 20 years, which may prove to be an excellent investment long-term. However, power generated will be entirely dependent on the weather—the number of grey days will impact output—so we can’t guarantee how much power will be generated each year.

To give everyone the same chance to participate, postcards will go out to every customer on the same date in the near future, and we will be taking orders at that time. In the meantime, please don’t contact our offices about the project as we won’t be ready to offer participation or more info until the postcards are mailed out.

Written by Central Lincoln Board Treasurer, Judy Matheny, for the August 2019 issue of Boardlines