"Northwest Portland: Neighbors West-Northwest holding workshops, Q & A sessions about solarizing homes"
By Molly Hottle
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Next month, Northwest Portland residents interested in solarizing their homes can learn more about the process with free workshops and question and answer sessions organized by Solarize Northwest, a project formed by the Neighbors West-Northwest Coalition.
Solarize Northwest is modeled after Solarize programs that began in recent years in other Portland quadrants to promote solarization, and it's program supported by Solar Oregon and the Energy Trust of Oregon, as well as the city of Portland.
Alison Wallisch, community support coordinator for Neighbors West-Northwest, said the coalition is working with and sharing information with North Portland for their program, Solarize North Portland.
The Solarize Northwest program works like this: Neighbors West-Northwest asked for bids from contractors within the city, choosing one based on how sustainable the business is, its experience with solarization and experience in the Northwest Portland neighborhoods.
The coalition chose Mr. Sun Solar for its local products and because its first office was in Northwest Portland.
"We ended up not choosing the least expensive contractor," Wallisch said. "It was more about the customer service we thought they would give our people over here and the use of Oregon materials."
At the Solarize Northwest workshops, the coalition is able to provide residents with estimates based on Mr. Sun Solar's pricing. Residents are also encouraged to obtain their own bids, but Wallisch said the bulk pricing the coalition receives from Mr. Sun Solar is about 20 percent less than what someone would pay for a solar-powered system under normal circumstances.
Mr. Sun Solar will also visit houses of interested residents for free site estimates. Wallisch said the program has gained in popularity, prompting the coalition to add three more sessions to the schedule. Those interested in taking part in the program must sign up for a site estimate by March 31.
--10 a.m., Saturday, March 5 at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, 1015 N.W. 22nd Ave.
--6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 31 at Friendly House, 1737 N.W. 26th Ave.
Upcoming Q & A Sessions:
--6:30 p.m., Monday, March 7 at Chapman Elementary School, 1445 N.W. 26th Ave.
--6:30 p.m., Monday, March 14 at Friendly House
--6:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 22 at Chapman Elementary School
--7 p.m., Thursday March 24 at Umpqua Bank, 1139 N.W. Lovejoy St.
I also sat down with Wallisch to talk about what people need to know about Solarize Northwest. Here's our question and answer session:
Tell me about Solarize Northwest. I know you've done some workshops and question and answer sessions.
Alison Wallisch: "We're just trying to educate the community about what it would mean to have solar electricity in their home, and the benefits of it, the benefits of weatherizing your home. We figure that the workshops are a way to bring the community together. It's also more convenient to answer questions rather than having people call in."
In the meetings are you breaking it down and telling people what they can do to solarize their homes?
AW: "Yeah, the basic workshops, it's a powerpoint presentation on what a system would look like, how much space it takes up on your roof, what the requirements are for it, like you have to have 10 years left on the life of your roof. That's what the Energy Trust and federal requirements are. It's basically that and a breakdown of how to solarization works."
Why do this for Northwest Portland and its residents?
AW: "Some of the other neighborhood coalitions did it and found that it brings in volunteers for other neighborhood activities. And we just thought it was a way to serve the community. About a year and a half ago, I did a survey of interest in the community, and a lot of people in the neighborhoods said they were interested in learning more about environmental things and energy efficiency. We thought it was the time to do it."
Have you had a good turnout at the workshops?
AW: "We've had a decent turnout. Right now we have about 50 people signed up for site assessments. At one of the workshops we had about 60 people and at another one we had like, three. It's really varied. And we're just going to keep going and answer any questions they have."
Are the people interested mostly homeowners or can people in apartment buildings and other places also be eligible?
AW: "We have some people who are doing it for rental units but the homeowners are the ones who are going to get the incentives. It can work for condos, if you own a condo, you can do it on a condo building. We're taking business leads if businesses want to participate. It will be a slightly different price because businesses' financial incentives are different. We're just hoping it excites the community about solar initiatives, that they realize Oregon is sunny enough for solar."
What are some of the incentives for homeowners?
AW: "There are tax credits that come from the energy trust. Depending on the size of the system, there are federal tax incentives."
What are the energy incentives of using a solar energy system?
AW: "It really depends on how big of a system they're looking at purchasing, but with most systems, you're not going to get one that covers your complete energy usage. People who usually put solar power systems on their house find that they're using less energy because they're more aware of it. They can see when they're generating electricity and when they're not. Usually a system covers about 20 to 25 percent, most of that is produced in the summer. It'll pay back for itself eventually. The system will last for a long time. They're warrantied for 20 years."
What is the difference between the workshops and the Q&A sessions?
AW: "Well, the introductory workshop doesn't go into depth on anything. But if you've been to an introductory workshop or you have more specific questions, those are what the question and answer sessions are for. If you already think you know something about solar, but you aren't sure, the question and answer session is probably better."
What's the connection with the program in North Portland?
AW: "We worked together on the RFP and our office put together the website for both. We're working together, but they have a separate contractor...and they're doing all their own outreach for their program. But we're also sharing knowledge."
What's your goal with all this? Are you hoping to solarize the majority of Northwest Portland?
AW: "Any amount of solar electricity is a good thing, because people see it driving by. We're just hoping to give it to people who want it. The other coalitions that have done it have had hundreds of installs. I don't know how many we'll get; the first couple of contracts have been signed. They have until March 31 to sign up just to get a visit to their house. They don't have to sign a contract by then."