"Pendleton, a rural Oregon solar success story"
by Claire Carlson
Solar Oregon Education Coordinator
My travels this year for Solar Oregon have taken me from windy coastal inlets to high desert ranchland, over snowy mountains and through sun scorched canyons. I count myself lucky not only to work for such a great organization, but also to live and work in such a diverse and beautiful state.
Along with such rich geographic diversity in Oregon we have a wide range of people spread across it. When I first took up my position as Education Coordinator I felt extremely challenged, not only to learn enough about solar energy to be able to speak intelligibly to a group of people who have tough questions, but also about the sheer vastness of our state and Solar Oregon’s goal to educate all Oregonians about their solar energy options.
What I have learned so far is that while Solar Oregon’s impact is positive and important, what really needs to happen to spur a larger community wide change, is a local champion for the cause and support from both community and municipal levels. And while interest and support for solar energy and energy efficiency has grown in many rural communities this year, I would like to talk to you about one in particular, Pendleton.
Traditionally Pendleton has always had a strong turnout for Solar Oregon workshops, but like many other rural Oregon communities they have faced obstacles to increasing their adoption of renewable energy, including a challenging economy. By being creative and leveraging their resources, however, Pendleton has been able to shatter these road blocks and turn the heads of rural communities all over Oregon.
Pendleton’s Solarize program, which I will discuss shortly, has caught most of the spot light but they have also been busy with incorporating solar into their public works facilities. With current installations at their Water Treatment, and Waste Water Treatment facilities and plans for a Food to Waste Energy program, an Aquifer Storage and Recovery Energy project, they have used third party financing and are looking into the Volumetric Incentive Rate Pilot program for possible financial opportunities. For more information check out Bob Patterson’s speaker profile on our website which includes a presentation on their municipal projects.
Pendleton Waste Water Treatment facility solar installation phase 1
In 2009 the City of Pendleton hired Lee Jorgensen as Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) participant. The RARE program is a great opportunity for rural communities to hire talented (and affordable) college graduates for project work including community development and community planning. Inspired by a similar project happening in SE Portland, Lee chose to organize a bulk purchasing solar program for Pendleton residents, commonly known as a Solarize project. While Lee ended his RARE term last September, his leadership and enthusiasm contributed greatly to the success of the project.
Lee Jorgensen RARE participant in front of the home of Ken and Sally Abbott, the first Pendleton Solarize installation
>>click here to view the Abbott's Solar Ambassador profile page
If you would like to learn more about Pendleton’s Solarize program and how you can volunteer or register for their next round check out their Solarize page. You will find Lindsey Hardy’s (Pendleton’s new RARE participant) information on that page.
While it was important to have a champion in the community contributing to Pendleton’s Solarize a success, there was another aspect of this particular effort that made it financially possible for the participants. In a leap of creativity and ingenuity city officials, including Pendleton’s Mayor Phil Houk, City Manager Larry Lehman, Public Works Director Bob Patterson organized a deal where they were able to borrow $450,000 from the sewer rate stabilization fund and offer $9,000 zero-interest loans to as many as 50 residents to offset most of the up-front cost. As the homeowners receive their solar tax credit from the state and federal government, they pay off their city loan with it. The loan program was restricted to owner-occupied Pendleton residents. In the end 43 residents took advantage of it, many claiming it made Solarize Pendleton a "no brainer."
Pendleton Solarize installations were completed by Solar Oregon Professional Member LiveLight Energy. >>click here to view thier Solar Professional page
Another organization that stepped forward to making Pendleton’s story such a success is Blue Mountain Community College. This local institution and its Economic Development Director, Art Hill have gone out of their way to help facilitate Pendleton’s goals. Offering free venues for workshops and networking among his local business contacts, Art is not only working to make the current projects a success but also to draw renewable energy friendly companies to Pendleton. The idea is to arm BMCC students with an education that provides the basis for a local workforce and fosters clean energy business activity in Pendleton.
Energy Trust of Oregon and the Solar Now! collaboration were also involved in Pendleton’s solar story this year. Susan Badger-Jones, Energy Trust’s local representative educates individuals and businesses on their energy efficiency programs and solar energy reviews which were built into the Solarize program. With an average home in Pendleton hailing from the 1950s, providing resources to help folks make their homes more energy efficient is crucial in helping them get the most out of their investment in a solar system. Pendleton also hosted this year’s Solar Now! University. This three day conference brought communities of Northern and Eastern Oregon together to learn from the experts and each other on topic ranging from community outreach for solar to the technology and financials behind it. Check out the link for copies of the presentations given and stay tuned for info on next year’s Solar Now! University for Southern and Western Oregon communities.
2010 Solar Now! University participants
Solar Oregon’s contribution to Pendleton this year has come mainly in the form of education and outreach. We are one party of the Solar Now! team. We provided data and web based support as well as education for the Solarize project.
What Pendleton has gained this year can be measured in more than just Kilowatt hours. What they have gained is a community wide change in the concept of what’s possible and the willingness to rise up in an effort to meet their future energy needs from within. I have highlighted just a few elements of Pendleton’s success and some of the people behind it in the hope that it inspires you and your community to take action. If you would like to share what is happening in your community, we would love to hear from you!