"Beaverton's pilot solar program came close to reaching its goal of 50 homes"
The goal for the pilot program: Solar energy for 50 new homes by Aug. 31. Four months later, Solar Beaverton didn't quite hit its goal of 50 -- 45 homes signed contracts, with a few others still in negotiations -- but city officials who sponsored the project say they're pleased with the results nonetheless.
BEAVERTON -- It wasn't until after the splashy solar-program announcement back in May that Beaverton's new sustainability coordinator took inventory of existing residential demand.
The permits showed a surprising number: just five homes in Beaverton, a city approaching 90,000 residents, already had existing solar arrays.
The goal for the pilot program: Solar energy for 50 new homes by Aug. 31.
Cindy Tatham remembers the moment. She didn't freak out.
"Oh," she said she remembered thinking to herself, "we're going to smoke this!"
Four months later, Solar Beaverton didn't quite hit its goal of 50 -- 45 homes signed contracts, with a few others still in negotiations -- but city officials who sponsored the project say they're pleased with the results nonetheless.
"It turned out well," Tatham said.
Based on the results from the pilot project, city leaders expect to implement a broader program next year. An AmeriCorps volunteer will partner with the city of Beaverton to review data in coming months and collect feedback from residents to help shape the next version. City officials haven't set a goal for next year, but 200 homes may not be out of the question.
"Until we learn the lessons we don't know what the program's going to look like, because the lessons are going to guide us," Tatham said.
Beaverton's solar push was prompted by Mayor Denny Doyle, who targeted sustainability as one of his top priorities for the year. The city didn't contribute any money for the project, officials say, but helped trim residential costs by agreeing to partner with one provider, California-based SolarCity, which offered bulk discounts.
Some local solar installers complained because Beaverton selected SolarCity without a competitive bidding process. Although Tatham said she doesn't know what next year's program will look like, she promises there will be competitive bidding "no matter what."
Solar Beaverton drew inquiries from more than 400 people, Tatham said, but the program didn't work for everyone. Some people needed new roofs before they could install panels, some had too much shade at their homes, and others had sticker shock.
Beaverton's program promised to deliver a $20,000 array for as little as $2,250 after federal and state tax credits and private rebates. But initial out-of-pocket costs would still exceed $10,000 for most customers.
That expense was one of the deterring factors, said South Beaverton resident Stan Miller. The longevity of his roof was another. The longevity of the solar inverter, which transfers the collected solar power, was yet another. And Miller also had concerns about out-of-pocket costs, should any of the equipment get damaged.
"After looking at those four factors, we decided not to do it on this house," he said. "I still think it is a great idea. It was a tough call."
City Council President Marc San Soucie signed up for the program the day Doyle announced its kickoff at City Hall. As an elected official, San Soucie said he in part wanted to participate to support the program.
San Soucie said he expects the long-term cost will be about $3,500, which after expected savings on his electric bill will make the endeavor financially neutral. He said he and his wife, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, probably would have installed solar panels without the city program -- but may have waited a few more years.
"It's really cool to watch the meters and see what's going on with the power," he said of his 3.1 kilowatt system. "It does work as advertised."
Sexton Mountain residents Bill and Sarah Wolfe also opted for the program.
Their system is the smallest in Beaverton, with a 1.89 kilowatt capacity. Sarah Wolfe said they expect it will generate 20 percent to 30 percent of their total power. The long-term cost, after rebates and credits, is expect to be less than $500, she said.
The Wolfes figure they're doing their part to be green, and maybe their decision will motivate others.
"We've had neighbors come up and say, 'Oh, you're doing solar panels,'" she said. "It gets the conversation going."