Solar and renewable energy have returned to the minds of some Oregonians and community leaders as a clean energy agenda dominates the new administration’s top items to tackle. Spending some now to save a lot in the long run is taking precedent, especially as we all look to save on energy costs and shift economies in a changing climate and post-pandemic world. Starting from the top, President Joe Biden signed an order for the United States to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and embarked on sweeping climate actions, which includes $500 billion to switch to clean energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To understand solar’s role, the International Renewable Energy Agency reported China as the largest solar power energy producer having installed approximately 178,000 photovoltaics (PV) or gigawatt hours (GWh) of solar capacity with United States coming in second with 85,000 GWh, ahead of Japan, Germany, and India.
For many years in Oregon now, and in Bend, we’ve seen more homes and larger industries using solar to reduce energy costs, help conserve natural resources and demonstrate environmental leadership. According to Energy Trust of Oregon, every day five more homes or businesses go solar, and local nonprofits like The Environmental Center are helping neighbors demystify solar and find solar solutions that don’t break the bank. According to Bend-based company, National Solar, an average solar unit offsets 4.7 tons of carbon dioxide a year. The company has likened that average to charging a cell phone 650,000 times, planting 84 trees and letting them grow for ten years, or traveling 12,500 miles in a family car. Bend gets plenty of sunshine making the region an especially easy place to utilize solar. With time, more incentives and affordability, the city could be a regional leader in solar and has made several efforts to reduce emissions. The City of Bend installed a 33-kilowatt solar array on top of the Bend Centennial Parking Plaza downtown in 2011. The city also established a Strategic Energy Management Plan in 2019, which states, “Strategic energy management exemplifies the City’s core values of Inclusivity, Sustainability, Partnership, Stewardship and Responsiveness, and has been consistently reflected in Council Goals since the early 2000s. Reducing fossil fuel consumption throughout the City’s facilities and operations will reduce adverse impacts on the environment, increase the resiliency of our City, and generate financial savings by reducing operating costs allowing us to direct more resources towards providing vital customer services. It also demonstrates leadership in the community in promoting environmental stewardship and can inspire others to do the same.” Following the plan, the city installed 360 solar panels at the Water Filtration Facility, which will help reduce the city’s carbon emissions by nearly 180,000 pounds per year over 20 years. This grant-funded project was made possible by Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, which claims residents can join for as little as $1.95 per 200-kilowatt hour block per month.
Why Solar Now?
Apart from a changing climate and the need for more people to save on energy costs, the 2020 spending bill extended the solar investment tax credit (ITC) at its current level of 26 percent for two additional years, through the end of 2022. It will decrease to 22 percent in 2023 and then expire in 2024, unless it is renewed again by Congress. For commercial solar installations, a 10 percent tax credit is available for systems starting installation in 2024. Any system placed in service after 2025, regardless of start date, can receive a maximum tax credit of 10% Oregon’s solar tax credit expired in 2017, however the state’s net metering policies and some municipal rebates have helped offset solar costs. While a solar system’s initial payback is low in the short term, the benefits are numerous in the long term. Investing in solar is a low-risk, apart from regulatory changes, but high-reward investment that increases the value of a property, saves money on energy bills, and supports the kind of clean environment future generations are depending on. Why not put Bend’s numerous sunny days to work for the future of our environment and put the city on the map as a regional leader in the coming years?