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* SCC looks at huge solar energy expansion

Shoreline Community College is proposing to install the largest roof-top solar energy system in the state.


And, at no cost to the taxpayers.


1.jpg“This project will take advantage of the new law the Legislature approved this past session that encourages private investors to fund renewable energy projects on public buildings,” said Mike Nelson, Director of SCC’s Clean Energy Technology Program and Executive Director of Washington State University’s NW Solar Center.


In a letter of intent sent Aug. 12 to Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco, college officials say that at build-out, the system will create 100 kilowatts of solar-generated power. “That’s easily larger than any other roof-mounted system,” Nelson said. “The only thing bigger is Puget Sound Energy’s 500 kW system at Wildhorse in Kittitas County.”


Shoreline Community College already has the largest solar-energy installation feeding the grid through City Light’s system, an 18 kW system on top of the school’s science building. A smaller system is on what is known as the “Zero Energy House,” a demonstration project built by WSU students which now sits on the SCC campus and serves as Nelson’s offices.


The letter of intent outlines the college’s plan to use the provisions Senate Bill 6170, signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on May 12, 2009. Officially known as Washington State Department of Revenue’s Renewable Energy Production Incentive Program, it is commonly referred to as the community solar law.


The law allows private investors to finance projects generating renewable energy, like solar, on public buildings. The key to the law attracting such investors are the reimbursement rates for the power generated and federal tax breaks.


According to the letter, the college will be looking for 20 investors to each “buy” a 5kW solar-power generation installation, estimated to cost about $40,000 each. Under SB 6170, City Light is obligated to pay the investors for power produced. Shoreline’s project will use all Washington-made components, including recently approved solar modules from Silicon Energy, LLC, in Arlington, Wash. The made-in-Washington stamp boosts the reimbursement rate from a base of $0.30 per kilowatt/hour to $1.08 per kWh, according to the letter. That reimbursement would continue until 2020, when the program is set to end.


“With average performance of the systems, each investor should receive about $5,000 a year on the power generated,” Nelson said. “That means $50,000 over the life of the investment, a 20 percent return.”


But, wait there’s more, Nelson said.


“Plus, each investor should qualify for the 30 percent federal tax credit/rebate on the original $40,000 investment.”


While the investors would get paid for the generated power and be eligible for the tax break, the college would use the power, offsetting its utility costs, the letter says. The power from the project would be used directly by the college, but rarely, if ever, exceed the total power needs of the campus. From the City Light system perspective, the project would look like power conservation by the college.


Once the program ends in 2020, ownership of the system would pass to the college, which would continue to operate the project.


The installation and the labor would be unique, the letter says.


The 5 kW installations would be spread across a number of the more than 20 buildings on the SCC campus. The actual work would be done in a partnership between the Puget Sound International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Joint Apprentice Training Program, interns from the Shoreline Community College Clean Energy Program and the WSU Northwest Solar Center.


The next steps for the Shoreline Community College project will be to work out legal and contractual details. “This is an exciting time for renewable energy and solar in particular,” Nelson said. “The political, technological and market stars are aligned.”

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