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"City government could lead the way for solar development in Reedsport"

By Alex Powers
The Umpqua Post
>>click here for original article

Solar arrays could appear on more Reedsport rooftops in the near future, say those familiar with the South Coast’s alternative energy industry.

The reason? The price for solar technology is dropping and demand is increasing.

City Manager Scott Somers said Reedsport officials in a 2009 strategic plan agreed to “explore and consider implementing measures” to attract so-called green industry.

Among those measures, he said, is sustainable building — often including infrastructure such as renewable energy. Solar-generated electricity is one way for businesses to use renewable energy, giving the city a “green” tag and attracting more green-minded businesses.

But the cost of solar panels and installation falls on building owners — the city has no way to track or enforce how much renewable energy is used by businesses.

Walk the talk

City government can, however, set an example. Somers said the city should “walk its talk.”

“If we’re going to encourage reduction in energy use and try to find ways to use renewable energy ... we should follow our own model,” he said.

Federal grant funding is available for renewable energy infrastructure. Already a solar array provides power to a city sewer pump station on Elm Street, Somers said. City officials also anticipate an audit and communitywide energy consumption plan.

The city has applied for a federal appropriation to help pay for development of wave energy industry on the South Coast.

Congress is expected to award about $400,000 to the city this fall.

Part of those funds must be spent on an energy consultant. Such a consultant could tell the city how it can become more sustainable, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Somers said renewables will become a dominant source of energy in Reedsport only when the cost is the same or less than traditional sources.

“Then it’s going to make much more economic sense for everyone to use alternative energy, including solar, wave and wind,” Somers said.

Solar’s cost

Options available to business owners include U.S. Department of Agriculture grants, and state and federal tax credits.

Government reimbursement makes solar power systems “very practical” for business owners, said Reedsport electrician Steve Reese. His Edgewater Electric company installs solar power systems up and down the South Coast.

A 11,545-kilowatt system recently installed at Dunes Family Health Care made that business the first in Reeds-port to utilize a significant amount of solar power. Grants and tax credits paid most of the $79,000 price tag.

Because similar funding is not available for private homeowners, solar systems generally are limited to “the people that want to feel good,” Reese said. “Green-oriented.”

A typical 2,000-kilowatt system for residential use could cost more than $13,000. In other communities, he explained, utility providers offer larger incentives for solar power than does Central Lincoln People’s Utility District in Reedsport.

Only one house in this area, he said, utilizes solar power. It is located in Winchester Bay.

The price of solar panels since last September has dropped by 20 percent, Reese said.

The future

Further solar development at city hall will depend on the cost, and what kind of investment is regarded as best practices in Oregon government.

Solar arrays are often paid off within a few years. The array at Dunes Family Health Care will become profitable in two years.

Somers wasn’t sure what timeline would be appropriate on taxpayer dollars.

Money spent, he said, will have to be done in accordance with the city’s own money-saving policies and agenda to expand business while becoming a role model for sustainability.

“If you Google ‘sustainability,’ you’re going to get 100 different answers,” Somers said. But “you’re going to see a theme — developing without depleting resources and impacting future generations.”

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