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"High on rooftop solar panels"

Surrogate solar has arrived in Lane County with the near-completion of an 85-kilowatt array atop the FOOD for Lane County building in southwest Eugene.

Surrogate solar has arrived in Lane County with the near-completion of an 85-kilowatt array atop the FOOD for Lane County building in southwest Eugene.

Developer Gary Marcus will pay the nonprofit agency $2,400 each year for a decade for use of the roof. The panels already are on the roof, and Marcus hopes the system will be running by Sept. 30.

“It’s a growing trend,” said Eric Nill, a principal at Advanced Energy Systems of Eugene, which built and installed the array.

Increasingly, private equity groups and entrepreneurial divisions of major companies are financing the construction of solar arrays — electrical devices consisting of large collections of connected photovoltaic cells — on other people’s buildings.

They either pay rent or sell the power they generate at a discount to the host building owner.

Big companies such as Kohl’s, Staples and Wal-Mart have turned to third-party investors to finance, own and operate solar systems on their roofs, Nill said.

The arrangement gives “green power” bragging rights to the host company — without paying the financing, installation or ongoing maintenance costs.

Honeywell Global Finance paid for an array on Pendleton’s water treatment plant and on a building at Mount Hood Community College under similar third-party contracts, Nill said.

More projects are on the drawing board: an array on a Bend parking structure and, perhaps, one on top of the Salem Conference Center.

Those and similar projects may depend, however, on whether the state Legislature keeps approving a sufficient number of business energy tax credits, Nill said.

More projects would be under way with private financing if the tax credits were more freely available, he said.

The FOOD for Lane County project — on the agency’s building on Bailey Hill Road — has a philanthropic twist.

The developer, Mar-cus, said he was looking for a way to get hands-on experience with a solar project.

The energy entrepreneur has developed a green hydroelectric power plant in Sweet Home. But his efforts in the early 2000s to build a controversial gas-fired power plant on farmland north of Coburg collapsed.

“Solar is much easier. Everyone loves solar, really — and not everyone loves the Coburg power project,” he said.

Marcus is spending $500,000 to build the system at FOOD for Lane County. He’ll get as much as 80 percent of the cost back from state and federal tax credits — and more as he’s paid for the power the array generates, and benefits from the system’s accelerated depreciation on his taxes.

But in the 10th year, when the system should be all but paid for, Marcus plans to donate the solar array to FOOD for Lane County.

“It’s an actual, real donation of $30,000,” Marcus said.

Marcus said he was “astonished” to learn that about one-third of Lane County’s residents need help with food support.

“I like the idea of doing (an array) on the rooftop of an organization that helps poor people,” he said.

The energy the system will generate — each year for 25 years after the nonprofit agency takes ownership — will be the equivalent of what it costs to feed 20 people three meals a day, according to FOOD for Lane County.

“He just came to us, and out of his generosity, we’re going to have this wonderful solar array,” Ron Detwiler, the agency’s operation manager, said.

 
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