A solar panel project organized by Oregon Coast Community Action is cutting energy costs and bringing a cash infusion to the local economy.
The $1.24 million project, funded by a U.S. Department of Energy Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers Program grant, began in October and is on schedule to wrap up installations at Coos County locations by the end of February. An additional $250,000 in incentive dollars from the Energy Trust of Oregon helped pay for the project.
People and organizations who receive solar panels will see lower electric bills, especially over the summer, said Patricia Gouveia, ORCCA's essential services director, who worked to secure the grant.
Buildings with multiple housing units were targeted. The Women's Safety and Resource Center's Jane's House, Coos Curry Housing Authority's facilities in Airport Heights and Powers, Cedar Grove Apartments and Park West Apartments will receive panels.
In the first year of operation alone, the panels are projected to save $33,000 in energy costs, said Shannon Souza, owner of Sol Coast Companies and project manager for the grant project. Over the next 25 years, the panels are expected to save $1.2 million.
The extra jingle in pockets will translate to more spending in the community and more stable finances for families who need it most, Gouveia said. Savings are continuous and will help families long after a one-time assistance program would, she added.
For organizations, like Women's Safety and Resource Center, the savings on electricity will mean more funds for programs. The panels on Jane's House will serve both it and the Cloe House. Although no savings have been realized from the panels, yet, Executive Director Judy Moody said she's all for the project and anticipates savings.
'Every little bit helps," she said, adding that even $10 saved each month would shelter someone for a night.
The project also has provided an economic boost to the people working with the panels. All the solar modules came from Hillsboro, and created $350,000 in payroll for Coos County workers on the project. For the six additional Coos County workers Sol Coast picked up for the project, installations mean a paycheck. Their training and experience from this project makes them more competitive for future projects, Souza said.
The project also will open people's eyes to the effectiveness of solar energy, even in a cloudy climate, Gouveia said.
Despite cloud cover, the Coos Bay area performs better than Astoria, Portland and Eugene, Souza said. That the area performs better than Astoria is remarkable, she said, especially since Astoria has more solar potential than Germany, where large sections of the population rely on solar energy.
Each panel and unit are monitored to show where the most savings are experienced and at what level, Gouveia said. A successful project could provide data to support other initiatives in the future.