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"Portland makes deal with solar firm to install community panels"

"Portland makes deal with solar firm to install community panels"

Michael Armstrong, senior manager at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, expects an upcoming program to boost community support of solar power.

By Reed Jackson, DJC Oregon

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Portland is inviting community members to invest in renewable energy.

The city on Wednesday signed a $100,000 grant agreement for Tangerine Power, a Seattle-based company, to put solar panels on eight community structures – five elementary schools, the Southwest Community Center, Portland International Raceway and a building owned by the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition.

Local residents and business owners will be encouraged to buy shares of the energy produced by the solar panels.

“We definitely see solar as a promising part of the future energy supply, but it’s got a ways to go,” said Michael Armstrong, senior manager at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “We want to implement a system that will drive the cost of solar power down, attract solar industry to town and open ownership to a broader scope of people.”

Many residents and business owners can’t access solar energy because they rent or own property not viable for solar panels. However, an investment in one of the community solar panels can help support a system that some city officials believe could be the future of renewable energy.

The $100,000 will go toward program development and community outreach. The money came from a grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009, when it named Portland one of 13 U.S. cities to successfully integrate solar energy into its communities.

“Five years ago, we had less than 200 kilowatts of solar energy being used in the city – now we have 11,000. This will help encourage the trend by generating community support,” Armstrong said.

At this point, Oregon laws prevent property owners from receiving energy directly from communal solar energy systems, so investors’ energy bill amounts won’t drop. Instead, the energy generated will be sold to utility companies in Portland – like PGE – and investors will receive profits.

Stanley Florek, CEO of Tangerine Power, said the panels will have a direct effect on the city’s energy output.

“It’s going to have the same job and overall use (as if investors had their own panels plugged in) because it’s all the same electricity grid,” Florek said. “The city will use more renewable energy as a result.”

Florek said he is not sure yet how many people will be able to invest in each panel. However, he did say that one panel would be able to produce 5.5 kilowatts and each of the others would be able to produce slightly less than 10 kilowatts.

Residents and business owners in the neighborhoods surrounding the panels will be the first people targeted by the BPS to become investors.

“Our expectation is that people will be more interested in supporting a solar project that they can actually see – on a school or community building that they may have a relationship with – regardless of the fact that individual electrons can’t be tracked,” Armstrong said.

Multiple neighborhood associations have signed on to participate. In fact, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods convinced Portland Public Schools to donate roof space at five of its schools. Bob Alexander, senior manager for real estate and assets at PPS, acknowledged that the schools would not be directly plugged into the panels. He said PPS agreed to do it because school officials believe it will improve the community.

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