Oregon’s utility-supported Energy Trust of Oregon has now helped 5,000 homeowners go solar. And while Anbu Varatharajan, Durga Nallathambi and their 4-month-old daughter didn’t win a sweepstakes for being the 5,000th homeowners to go solar with the nonprofits’ support, they’ll win in the long-run with lower energy costs and a cleaner carbon footprint.
The family moved into their newly built, energy efficient home in Northwest Portland last fall. It was already Energy Star rated and features an EPSTM, Energy Trust’s energy performance score. “We thought adding solar would be very expensive, until our neighbor went through the process,” Varatharajan said. “We were able to work with our contractor on a solar lease."
The system was installed by SolarCity, according to Energy Trust. However, it could have been installed by of the 123 approved Oregon solar installers in Energy Trust’s ally contractor list. Currently it offers a maximum $5,000 solar rebate to help homeowners use solar energy.
The non-profit organization offers incentives and services to help homeowners reduce their energy use and use alternative energy. The nonprofit, which is supported by a 3 percent public purpose charge that investor-owned utilities must charge their customers in the state, was authorized by the Oregon Public Utility Commission and launched in 2002. In 2003 it began offering incentives to customers. The organization and its incentives have helped Oregonians save $1.3 billion in energy costs.
“Energy Trust began offering solar incentives for residential customers of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power in 2003 to help offset the upfront cost of going solar. When combined with currently available state and federal tax credits, the incentive helps homeowners save up to 80 percent off their installation," states the organization. Now the non-profit offers solar incentives and energy efficiency incentives to those utilities as well as NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas.
The organization estimates that the 5,000 solar homes it has helped go solar are avoiding the production of 7,100 tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to removing around 1,250 cars from the road annually. “From Pendleton to Portland, Ashland to Astoria, thousands of Oregonians have proven that solar is a big success in our state,” said Dave McClelland, solar program manager at Energy Trust. Indeed it is; and can be. While Oregon isn’t known for its sunny weather, its Eastern slopes get plenty of sunlight and even rainy Portland gets more sun than Germany, the world’s leader in solar.
Since launching its solar incentives, Energy Trust has seen the costs of solar in Oregon fall. Over the past five years, the costs of the average 3- kilowatt system has fallen by 43 percent, for instance. In addition, neighborhood Solarize projects (group purchasing campaigns to lower the cost of solar) and solar leasing are making it even easier for more Oregonians to see the light.