"Solar feed-in tariff rush shakes out for Oregon businesses"
At least 20 businesses are slated to build new solar systems under Oregon’s new solar incentive program, and that number is likely to climb
by Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon
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At least 20 businesses are slated to build new solar systems under Oregon’s new solar incentive program, and that number is likely to climb.
Created by the Oregon Legislature in July 2009, the program, called a feed-in-tariff program, offers payments for electricity generated by newly built solar systems. Those who reserved space through the initial online enrollment process July 1 will be paid between 55 and 65 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from systems smaller than 100 kilowatts. The rates are locked for 15 years.
Applications were taken on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the program hit capacity in most of the state just 15 minutes after opening enrollment.
“Needless to say, there was strong interest,” said Bob Valdez, spokesperson for the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which is tasked with operating the program.
And some of that interest came from businesses.
Participating utilities allotted capacity to 236 projects during this first, frenetic enrollment period. Portland General Electric approved the most qualifying applications, 118 in about 13 minutes, while Pacific Power approved 79 in 15 minutes and Idaho Power approved 39 in about two hours.
Only Portland General Electric tracked how many of those projects were proposed by businesses, noting applications were approved for 20 business projects by the utility. PGE spokeswoman Elaina Medina said the list of businesses approved for new solar, which is confidential, includes high-profile businesses likely to release news about their projects soon.
Other businesses are also likely to have signed on. Pacific Power spokesman Tom Grauntt said the utility subscribed about 45 percent of space allocated for its program for projects larger than 10 kilowatts. He said the projects were likely proposed by businesses, though no firm data is available yet.
“Given the idea of needing to match usage, it would be hard to imagine that those are homes,” Grauntt said, noting the program requires that proposed systems be limited in size to 90 percent of annual power usage.
Idaho Power issued its capacity only to small systems, likely for residences, following rules set by the Oregon Public Utility Commission.
All three utilities said applications were received from throughout their service areas, with the highest concentrations of projects reserved through PGE being in the tri-county area and in Marion County. Pacific Power noted its highest interest per-capita came from Enterprise, Ore., known for its clear skies on cold days.
Glenn Montgomery, speaking on behalf of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association, said a quick, informal survey of members showed installers were mostly pleased with the new program, despite the rush to apply.
“It’s a very strange way to do business, this sprint to the finish,” said Montgomery. “It’s what we have to work with so people are going to do the best they can.”
Of the 20 installers responding to the query, Montgomery said most were able to subscribe between two and five projects for customers.
“The fact that this program sold out in minutes is certainly a testament to the demand that was out there,” said Montgomery. “The opportunity is there for us to deploy a significant amount of solar across the state.”
PGE and Pacific Power customers who missed the gold rush can also try again in October, said Valdez. Those utilities plan to open offer two enrollment periods annually, for a total of eight enrollment periods through 2014, when the pilot project ends. Idaho Power will offer one last shot at enrollment in April 2011.