Franklin PUD Community Solar
by Annette Cary
Pasco project produces enough power for five to six houses
They are credited for the solar energy of their piece of the community solar project and also are eligible for a Washington state incentive. The new community solar project at the Franklin PUD is finished and providing a double benefit -- carbon-free power from the sun and welcome shade for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its completion Wednesday.
The panels are mounted on what's essentially a large carport newly built above part of the parking lot adjacent to the public utility district's main office on West Clark Street in Pasco. The carport was a space-saving plan, should buildings there need to be expanded in the future.
This month it started generating enough electricity on an annual basis to power five to six typical homes.
"I'll enjoy it every month when I see that lower bill," joked Jack Martincavage, who was one of the PUD customers who purchased blocks of the solar project.
Customers could apply for between one to 75 of 1,725 blocks available at a cost of $200 each. A drawing was held to select the subscribers.
They should have their initial investment paid back in three to four years, said Roger Wright, the public utility district commission president.
Jim Gaston, a Pasco resident and Energy Northwest general manager of energy services and development, and Erin Gaston were among the first to enter the lottery to purchase blocks. They now are subscribers to the project.
Their home did not have a roof configuration that would work for solar panels, as much as they would have liked to have them, Jim Gaston said.
"Erin and I, like many of you, are concerned about climate change," Jim Gaston said.
The Franklin PUD community solar project allows them a small part "in helping recognize climate change is a problem and we are actually able to do something about it," he said.
The project cost $420,000 and was paid for by participants and some money from the Rural Economic Development Fund.
The benefits of renewable power are readily evident in the Mid-Columbia, said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
"We also have to remember that we have to have baseload power," he said. "There are people out there who would take away the carbon-free baseload power of our Snake River Dams leaving us without any clean, affordable power to back (wind and solar production) up."
Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, said Eastern Washington residents are lucky to have inexpensive power because of abundant hydropower and the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant near Richland, he said.
He cautioned that the solar power that can be used to meet the requirements of Initiative 937 is expensive. The initiative requires utilities with at least 25,000 customers to purchase a portion of their power portfolio from limited types of renewable power, primarily wind and solar.
Hydropower is about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour and nuclear is less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour, he said. But wind is 30 cents and solar is 54 cents, plus a state incentive of $1.08 per kilowatt hour.
The state Legislature has considered a bill to extend the incentive program, which now is set to expire in 2020.
It failed to pass, largely because of the cost to the state, Nealey said. Continued incentives would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in a region that already has inexpensive power, he said.
"We have to be cautious as we go forward on where we allocate those resources," he said.
The Benton PUD also has community solar projects, both in Kennewick and in Prosser.
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