Photo by Brian Libby
BY BRIAN LIBBY
North and Northwest Portland area homeowners looking to control their energy costs by using solar electricity have a new helping hand to guide them through the steps of a home installation: Solarize Northwest and Solarize North Portland, two new grassroots, community-based projects coordinated by Neighbors West -Northwest and North Portland Neighborhood Services.
The Neighbors West-Northwest Coalition is an initiative of the city’s Bureau of Planning and sustainability to promote direct civic participation by supporting community efforts at the neighborhood level. BPS provides a forum for community engagement and education, and is a catalyst for action. This innovative, interdisciplinary approach strengthens Portland's position as an international model of sustainable development practices and commerce. North Portland Neighborhood Services, located in the Historic Kenton Firehouse, is the neighborhood office that serves residents in the 11 neighborhood associations in the North Portland district.
Solarize Portland neighborhood projects are designed to simplify the process of going solar and bring cost reductions through volume purchasing. Free workshops make the process easy to understand by covering topics such as the size of system to purchase, budgeting and financing, and how to get started.
The launch of the twin Solarize projects is being assisted in a public-private partnership between BPS and the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon. The city is providing strategic assistance and coordination, and Energy Trust is providing technical assistance and cash incentives to help lower the upfront cost of the solar electric systems.
The new initiatives in North and Northwest follow two previous successful Solarize campaigns. Last fall’s Solarize Southwest was initiated by local neighborhood leaders who wanted to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in Southwest Portland with the side benefit of reducing carbon emissions that cause global warming. The project was structured so that the price of solar panel installation would go down as more neighbors joined the effort.
"Solarize Southwest was perhaps the single most satisfying project I've worked on at SW Neighborhoods," said Leonard Gard, a project coordinator with Southwest Neighborhoods. "The shared experience of residents attending workshops together and installing solar energy equipment at the same time helped to create a strong sense of community amongst those who participated, and helped us fulfill our mission to the community: to empower citizen action to improve and maintain the livability of southwest neighborhoods."
The group purchasing created a 15-25 percent savings below average prices. The discount, in addition to current available tax credits and Energy Trust cash incentives, gave Solarize Southwest participants significant cost savings. Southeast Portland, Northeast Portland, and Southwest Portland have all run successful Solarize efforts, collectively installing over 1 megawatt of residential solar energy in 2010.
Solarize Southwest was built upon the first Solarize project in Southeast Portland in 2009 that was developed together by SE Uplift and Energy Trust, and quickly became a model now being used by other neighborhoods in Portland, as well as the Cities of Pendleton and Salem.
The Portland metro area is seeing a significant increase in solar for both volume and non-volume installations. With almost eight megaWatts of solar power installed across the city, enough energy to power almost 700 homes, Portlanders have helped prevent 4,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. A total of 38 solar installations were completed on homes citywide in 2008. In 2009, that number increased to 123 (32 percent were Solarize installations). The growth of the local residential market has experienced a 400 percent increase in installations from 2008 to 2010. And now the City of Portland is nearing its goal for installing 10 megaWatts by 2012.