ARLINGTON — Homeowners and apartment dwellers alike can soon buy into solar energy generated in Arlington.
A new Snohomish County Public Utility District program will allow those who can’t afford their own rooftop solar unit, don’t have an adequate roof or live in rented housing to support the development of solar power.
“Community Solar” launches this spring.
Customers can purchase units in a field of solar panels being built in Arlington. Each unit consists of one-fifth of a solar panel and will cost $120.
That initial investment will be regained in 10 years through rebates on PUD bills and state clean energy incentives. For each unit, the annual savings would total $16.50 — $5 in energy costs and $11.50 in state reimbursement.
Construction began in February and will finish up in May, PUD spokesman Aaron Swaney said. Seattle-based A&R Solar is building the field for $900,000.
The 2-acre solar panel array is just west of the Arlington Municipal Airport, in the Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center. It will be home to 8,100 units, Swaney said. That’s enough to power about 50 homes annually. The most a customer can purchase is 130 units for $15,600. The project will allocate 10 percent of the panels to low-income households.
“This comes down to people who want to put their money into something that will help the environment and help support sustainable energy,” Swaney said.
The power generated by the panels will flow onto the PUD’s grid, as with any other generation source, to be used by all the utility’s customers. Those who participate in Community Solar will be credited for the energy created.
The PUD currently has about 15 megawatts of customer-owned solar, generated from business and residential rooftop panels. The Community Solar project will increase the district’s overall solar energy by about 3 percent.
They had plans to build the Arlington solar array before deciding to open it up to the general public, program manager Suzy Oversvee said.
“Without this program, the PUD, and all our customers, would bear this cost,” she said in an email.
The project will replace the PUD’s previous solar initiative, Planet Power, which pooled donated money to fund solar projects at nonprofits, schools, food banks and other buildings.
Swaney said the county has completed about 34 projects in the decade since Planet Power began. The program will discontinue this year.
There’s enough money left to fund a few more projects, Swaney said. The agency is looking for candidates, ideally a nonprofit or school building with a large, sunny roof.
With the changes, the PUD hopes to lower the barrier for accessing solar energy, Swaney said. The average cost to cover a home roof with panels is $25,000. Some homes don’t have large enough roofs or enough sunlight. And renters are left out.
The Orcas Power and Light Co. on Orcas Island recently completed a similar project. All the units were sold out before the 1.3-acre field was completed in July.
“Our membership out here in the San Juans is very renewable and green-based, so there was a very large interest in the community to pursue this,” head accountant Travis Neal said.
About 272 of that utility’s 15,000 customers bought into the project, he said.
The organization is now looking into expansion.
“Folks want to know when more is going to be available,” he said.
High demand is expected in Snohomish County as well, Oversvee said.
“We’ve gotten a pretty good response from folks so far,” she said. “Our customer base in general has shown strong support for solar in the past.”
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
The Snohomish County PUD is providing three open houses to answer questions about the Community Solar program.
They are set for 5:30 to 7 p.m., with short presentations at 5:30 and 6:15 p.m.
Snohomish County PUD Main Headquarters (Electric Building), Commission Room, 2320 California St., Everett.
Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. West, Mountlake Terrace.
Lakewood/Smokey Point Library, 3411 169th Place NE, Suite A, Arlington.