"Shedding light on solar power"
West Linn Tidings
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Illuminating the basics of solar energy, Claire Carlson will share her knowledge tonight at the West Linn Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. as the final lecture of the West Linn Sustainability Advisory Board’s Sustainability Lecture Series.
As executive director of Solar Oregon, Carlson has helped both urban and rural Oregonians overcome the technical and logistical hurdles of going solar by guiding them through the process of community solar purchasing programs.
Founded in 1979, Solar Oregon is the Oregon chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, a nonprofit organization providing public education and community outreach to encourage Oregonians to choose solar energy.
Carlson said her presentation will concentrate on leaving listeners with an overall understanding of what solar electric and solar water-heating energy is and how well it works as well as its role in a household’s energy use.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the technology,” she said.
These include the idea that the Portland metro area doesn’t get enough sun for the panels to work well; that it’s too expensive for the average homeowner; and that the technology is complicated, unsafe and doesn’t last.
She’ll also speak about little-known advantages to going solar.
“I think most folks are aware of the environmental benefits of renewable energy, but they are less familiar with the financial benefits,” she said.
With energy prices on the rise, solar energy gives people more control of their energy use and costs, as it requires an understanding of what is actually being consumed.
“Everyone can tell me what they paid PGE last month, but we are less familiar with our actual energy consumption,” Carlson said. “Homeowners with solar are actively engaged in their energy production, which leads them to be more critical of their energy consumption in order to make their investment in solar go as far as possible.”
Although solar energy is unfamiliar to many, there are a number of options that make it more accessible to the average homeowner.
Carlson will discuss a number of community-run bulk purchase programs available in the region, along with incentive and tax credits that currently cover 75 to 80 percent of system costs for solar electric and 50 percent of costs for solar water heating.
Other programs also available include a pilot feed-in tariff program, in which “the utility pays you for the energy you produce,” she said, and leasing options that are sometimes offered with no upfront costs.
“(Solar energy) is very easy for homeowners to obtain, and we’re lucky that there are many well-qualified and experienced contractors in the area,” Carlson said.
However, going solar isn’t about one-stop shopping.
“It isn’t like going out and purchasing a fridge,” she said. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Solar energy needs to fit into your life, your energy use, your home and your budget.”
And, it’s only one piece of the renewable-energy puzzle.
“Solar energy is great, and I encourage everyone to check out how solar can help meet their energy needs, but solar is only part of the larger picture,” she said. “Before you purchase solar, you should really take a look at your home and where you can save energy now.
“Weatherize your home. Reduce your consumption. A little caulk and insulation can go a long way, and there are some great programs out there to help you make it affordable.”
And, even if solar installation isn’t in your immediate plans, Carlson said learning about available options now will help in the future.
“We all need to start taking ownership over our energy use,” she said. “Producing your own renewable energy on site is a great way to do that.”
The lecture will be held at the West Linn Public Library located at 1595 Burns St.
For more information and resources, visit www.solaroregon.org.