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"Let the sun pay the bills"

Rural Newberg couple installs a large solar array through a PGE power buy-back pilot program

"Let the sun pay the bills"

Bob Thompson stands before the large array National Solar erected adjacent to a storage facility on his property on Lewis Rogers Lane.

By Amanda Newman
The Newberg Graphic
>>click here for original article

Bob and Jan Thompson’s new solar panel system is causing quite the buzz on their rural Newberg road — neighbors slow down to check the structure out as they drive past and some are planning to add solar panels of their own.

   That’s partially because of Bob Thompson’s enthusiasm for his new “toy.”

   “I’m excited about it,” Thompson said, adding that he has been touting the system’s benefits to all his neighbors and has convinced at least one to follow suit. His wife says he goes to the outbuilding at least daily to see how much energy the system is generating and how much carbon dioxide they have not put into the environment that day.

   The impressive 24-panel residential system was installed in front of the outbuilding at the Thompsons’ Lewis Rogers Lane farm and has been up and running since Jan. 5. Over the past month, the panels generated 128 kilowatt-hours of energy.

   “I’m impressed with it, the way it’s going,” Thompson said. He pointed out that while the system didn’t generate a whole lot over the month — for perspective, he used more than 1,400 kilowatt-hours of energy for his residence and property in January — it wasn’t a bad result for a particularly foggy month.

   The Thompsons’ interest in solar panels was whetted last year when they visited the Oregon State Fair and saw information on the energy-generating systems. Two solar companies had booths there, and Thompson put his name in at both — National Solar called him within days, before the fair was even over, so he went with them.

   “They sounded good,” he said. “I thought it sounded too good to be true.”

   He got in through the PGE segment of a solar power buy-back pilot program being run periodically throughout the state. That made him ineligible for state energy tax credits, but he did qualify for a federal credit, which he will take over four years, for 30 percent of the project cost.

   The pilot program means that PGE pays him a set amount, 58.5 cents, for every kilowatt-hour of energy he generates over the next 15 years.

   Solar panel systems vary widely in cost, Thompson said, and his cost about $38,000. He estimates it will take eight to 10 years for the system to generate enough energy to pay for itself.

  The system was put on a ground mount, which Thompson said is 10- to 15-percent more efficient than when a system is mounted on a roof. The panels tend to slow down when they get hot, so the heat emanating from a house roof can be detrimental to their function.

   The solar panels can generate a few kilowatt-hours of energy even on a foggy day, but the weather Newberg experienced early this week was just about ideal: cold, but lots of sun. Under Tuesday’s brilliant sun, Thompson’s system generated 27.5 kilowatt-hours of energy — more than one-fifth the result of the whole of last month.

   “We’re excited about it and how much CO2 we’re saving, helping our footprint and keeping Oregon green,” Thompson said.

   Kim Berhorst, solar design program coordinator for National Solar, said Thompson isn’t the only one excited about the opportunity for individuals to take advantage of solar energy. The pilot program is in high demand, she said — PGE’s program “sold out” in about 10 minutes last fall, while Pacific Power’s was even faster.

   The solar systems appeal to the public because they’re easy to maintain (they need to be cleaned only a couple times a year) and have a 40- to 50-year life expectancy if cared for properly. The technology behind them is mature and they work for more people than windmills do, as they don’t rely on wind speeds and are less frequently labeled visual pollution.

   National Solar is based in Oregon and Washington and does business throughout the Northwest, Berhorst said, but mostly they are focused in Oregon. “The incentives are so much greater in Oregon right now, so that’s where most of our business is,” she said.

   The energy buy-back pilot program will hold limited enrollment periods every six months for the next few years; the next period starts April 1. For more information on the Feed in Tariff Pilot Program >>click here

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