Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Aug 12 2009

Seattle Solar Initiative: A Great Supplement to Hydro

It is well known that our city is a world leader in technology and innovation. We have an opportunity to broaden that distinction with our innovative use of solar energy. Currently, City Light has approximately 180 customers who have installed a solar energy-generating infrastructure in their home. These kinds of systems can cost $16,000-$30,000 which is one reason why it is not more widespread. I would like to see wider use of solar energy in our city.

At the August 5, 2009, Energy and Technology Committee (ETC) meeting, I requested that City Light present a briefing on Seattle becoming one of 25 “Solar America Cities” under the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar America Initiative. The objective of the Seattle Solar Initiative is to overcome the barriers to implementation of widespread solar energy technology and to increase residential, commercial, city-owned and community solar energy use.

A community solar project is similar to the P-Patch community garden model. Instead of installing a system on their own home, community residents voluntarily purchase a share of a large solar project. Participants receive the electricity produced by their share and may have access to the state’s Renewable Energy Production Incentive. Participants generally choose to be involved in such programs because: they cannot install solar because of cost; they rent (50% of Seattle rent); or their property has shading or other issues that would affect the system’s production. Currently, the City of Ellensburg has over 70 customers participating in a 100 kW system. To learn more about Ellensburg’s project click: http://www.b-e-f.org/renewables/ellensburg.shtm

The first step of the project is for City Light to conduct market research of 600 City Light ratepayers about the feasibility of creating a community solar program. The grant from DOE also includes technical and financial assistance from the agency. Funding for the survey will not come from City Light’s budget.

Some may be compelled to comment that Seattle does not get enough sun to pull this off. However, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Watts calculator, solar radiation in Seattle is greater than any city in Germany, one of the world’s leaders in utilization of solar energy. This can be done.

I look forward to pushing this project forward and seeing our city become a world leader in solar power use. Our city will benefit from another source of secure domestic energy, green development, new economic opportunities and clean energy production.

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