The utility this spring began giving out cash rebates to customers who install solar panels and solar hot water systems at their homes and businesses.
Two weeks ago, it began installing 54 solar panels on the rooftop of its downtown Everett headquarters.
"It's part of an overall push to promote and learn about solar energy," said PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos.
Despite the bad economy and high up-front expense -- a typical solar power system for a home runs about $20,000 before rebates -- interest in solar power appears to be gaining traction in Snohomish County.
Many credit increasingly generous government programs that offer cash rebates and tax write-offs to install solar energy systems and payments for electricity that is generated by solar panels, whether or not it is sent into to the power grid.
In the first three months of Solar Express, a PUD solar rebate and low-interest loan program, 26 households and one business applied.
"It's probably twice as many as we expected to see at this time," said Mary Smith, a senior manager of energy efficiency at PUD.
People who participate in the program can qualify for either cash rebates, about $1,500 for a typically sized solar panel project, or 2.9 percent interest loans for projects up to $25,000.
Federal tax credits can shave off about 30 percent of the cost of installing solar panels.
Steve Bernheim, a lawyer and Edmonds city councilman, installed 16 solar panels on the rooftop of his garage two years ago.
On sunny days, he can charge up an all-electric car that he owns and get paid for sending electricity to the grid. He also is mailed a check every year for a few hundred dollars from the Northwest Solar Cooperative, which sells so-called green tags or renewable energy certificates to offset greenhouse gas production.
"Nobody is going to get rich that way, but it's worked out great," Bernheim said.
In June, the hottest and sunniest month of the year so far, his system produced on average more electricity than he consumed. Of course, that isn't the case on the soggy side of the Cascade Range during the winter months when there is less sun and solar intensity is weak.
Several small solar electricity projects have appeared at public schools, Mukilteo City Hall and the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, thanks to PUD customers who donated money for green energy development through its Planet Power green energy program.
More solar panels around the community "plants a seed in people's heads that it's not just an anomaly," said Howard Lamb, an electrical engineer, with Sunergy Systems of Seattle. "The incentives are a heck of a lot better, and it's getting to a point where people are hungry for solar."
His company recently installed a 10-kilowatt system in Snohomish -- about the same size as the system on the PUD's headquarters -- and it has seen business pick up this year, despite difficult economic times, Lamb said.
The new system at PUD is expected to generate nearly enough energy for an average PUD customer's home, just a fraction of the electricity needed to power the utility's headquarters.
The system will include an interactive display in the PUD's lobby that will provide visitors with real-time and cumulative output -- including daily, weekly, monthly and annual system production -- for the solar panels.
The system was designed and installed by Whidbey Sun & Wind Coupeville for about $70,000.
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snohomish County PUD offers rebates and low interest loans for the installation of solar panels and solar hot water heating systems. Learn more at www.snopud.com.
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