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Community Solar program has benefits, needs more supporters

By Stephanie Bower
Courtesy Seattle City Light
Architectural Illustration of the design for solar power generation atop a picnic shelter at Beacon Hill's Jefferson Park.

As interest in solar power gains momentum, Seattle City Light is marketing a new program to make it more widely available. 

Community Solar gives people who can’t install solar panels on their own homes the chance to reap the rewards of a cash investment in solar power.

City Light is building three new picnic shelters at Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill with solar panels as their roofs. In the new program, rate payers can buy shares in the project at an upfront cost of $600. The utility says that cost could be nearly recouped as early as 2020, since the average subscriber can expect rebates of more than $50 per year on their electric bills.

Program manager Jack Brautigam says it’s been a bit of a struggle to get people signed up. They've only got 47 units subscribed to customers so far.

“We've got a ways to go. We're hoping to get as many as 500," Brautigam says, but adds that a grant will ensure construction regardless. "The project will be built later this fall and we hope by that time we have it fully subscribed.”

The project has seed money from a federal grant through the Solar America Cities program. Seattle is one of 25 cities with that status, along with Portland and San Francisco. 

Washington state doubled existing incentive rates for solar power in 2009.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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