Solarize Pendleton brings solar energy within reach for Eastern Oregonians
By Dani Zeghbib, LiveLight Energy- Solar Oregon Professional Member
Last spring, the City of Pendleton launched an innovative community-scale solar energy program to help homeowners take advantage of the benefits of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Solarize Pendleton leverages both economies of scale and federal and state tax credits, along with Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) incentives to lower the cost of a residential solar energy system by an average of 80%.
Pendleton leaders recognized that the success of the program hinged on residents’ understanding of the financial breakdown and cost savings for solar energy. The City of Pendleton, in partnership with Solar Oregon and the Energy Trust of Oregon, offered a series of free workshops, seminars, and events to engage and educate the community. The City also offered 50 residents a zero-interest loan to cover most of the up-front costs of their solar installation.
After a competitive bidding process, Oregon solar instaLiveLightr LiveLight Energy was awarded the Solarize Pendleton contract. LiveLight provided free solar site assessments to design a system meeting the specific needs (and budget) of each household. Sign-ups for assessments were available during every Solarize Pendleton workshop.
LiveLight worked with local subcontractors and hired additional local technicians to complete the installations. Solarize Pendleton Phase One ends this month; the City may make Phase Two available in April 2011.
Former City of Pendleton intern and current University of Oregon grad student Lee Jorgensen was tasked with spearheading the Solarize Pendleton project. LiveLight spoke with Lee to gather his insights for potential Solarize projects in other communities.
LIVELIGHT: How did the idea for Solarize Pendleton start?
LEE: The benefits of renewable energy were obvious, but the path to capitalizing on renewable energy systems was seen as confusing, time consuming and expensive. I was chaLiveLightnged to create a city-lead initiative to clarify this process. I took cues from the Solarize Portland program, but aimed to address the unique workforce, societal, and economic characteristics of the Pendleton area.
LIVELIGHT: What surprises did you encounter?
LEE: The overwhelmingly positive response. I don't think any of us at the city imagined that over 300 Pendletonians would sign up to have their homes and businesses assessed for solar.
Solarize Pendleton was a wonderful community-building experience. Throughout the series of workshops, residents were able to meet other community members with similar interests and support each other as they went through the assessment and installation process. Pendleton is a close-knit community, and Solarize Pendleton exemplified this.
Also, the appreciation people had for the City stepping up and spearheading such a project.
LIVELIGHT: If you were to repeat the project, what would you do differently?
LEE: Market earlier. I had the workshops scheduled way too early. Hold more workshops after we marketed. Prepare better logistically for the large volume of participants. Engage community members earlier in the project to take part in the leadership. I think this would have provided for a more sustained program that the community could replicate without the city having to take the lead.
LIVELIGHT: Can you explain the zero-interest loan program?
LEE: The City of Pendleton was able to borrow $450,000 from the sewer rate stabilization fund to offer (50) $9,000 zero-interest loans to cover most of the up-front cost for residents. As the homeowner receives 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. 43 residents took advantage of it, many claiming it made Solarize Pendleton a "no brainer." I agree, and that was our goal. Make it simple and painless.
Oregon-based LiveLight Energy, LLC designs and installs high-quality solar and renewable energy systems, focused on supporting the local economy by using equipment manufactured and assembled in Oregon. livelightenergy.com
Lee Jorgensen, a 2006 University of Minnesota graduate, served as an intern with the City of Pendleton through the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) program. He is currently a candidate for Master of Architecture with a Certificate in Ecological Design at the U of O.