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Solar boom in Kitsap County

It may have been freezing and wind-whipped Saturday, but Stan Brown was out in his sunglasses admiring the clear sky.

“The weather is great... we picked a great day,” he said.

Brown was the organizer behind this year’s Kitsap County solar tour, which wrapped up last weekend. The event corresponded with an announcement by Puget Sound Energy that – for the first time ever – civilian solar-power plugged into the grid had produced more than 1 megawatt of electricity.

Kitsap County is now fourth behind Jefferson, King and Whatcom counties for civilian-produced solar power with 43 homes and businesses plugged into the grid.

On average, PSE customers with solar arrays produce from 25 to 50 percent of their electric power needs from the sun.

“Overall they still need electricity coming from the grid, but there are plenty times when they are feeding green power to the grid,” PSE representative Andy Wappler said. “That allows us to then produce a little less energy from other sources, less water through the dam. We can also sell surpluses to other areas.”

According to Wappler, the benefit of the 1 megawatt mark is significant because it proves solar energy can meet growing energy consumption demands.

“The real benefit isn’t that it will generate energy that can go elsewhere,” he said. “If everyone were doing it, we would meet our areas growth without having build more sources of power.”

PSE expects that the demand for energy will increase by 40 percent over the next 20 years. It’s possible, Wappler said, to offset that increase with solar power.

There are a growing list of incentives to attract solar investment. PSE’s net-metering program allows customers to be credited for any electricity they are producing that is in excess of the electricity they are consuming. The customer can then draw on those credits during winter. PSE also offers production metering, in which homeowners pay for their electricity but receive cash payments each year based on kWh generation – in excess of $86,557 this year, divided among all PSE solar producers.

Richard Pederson, a Poulsbo resident, was part of the tour and received a $450 check for 10 months of solar production. He decided to invest in solar technology instead of keeping his money in Wall Street.

“We had our money invested in markets and we sat down and said let’s invest in our property so if we sell we can get (our money) back,” Pederson said. “We decided to use some money we had invested and bought the (photovoltaic) system. As of last Friday we would have lost that money if we kept it in the market.”

Pederson’s model, a 5.32 KW photovoltaic system, cost him $37,000 to install and is capable of producing 5,000 KW hours a year. He admits it is an expensive start-up cost, but one that is worth it in the long run.

“It’s expensive, there’s no doubt about it,” Pederson said. “But if everyone who could afford to do it, did it, that is a huge amount of energy not putting carbon into the atmosphere.”

Besides the boon to the environment, the government recently signed into law new solar incentives.

As part of the $700 billion bailout legislation passed two weeks ago, the Senate added measures that increase the incentives for homeowners to invest in solar energy. Under the regulations, civilians can claim a 30 percent income-tax credit on all expenses attributed to renewable energy investment. Previously that credit was limited at $2,000.

“We expect that will cause a 70 percent increase in home (solar power) in the next year,” Wappler said.

An example of these incentives is the Valley Farm House on Valley Road. Conceived by Bainbridge resident Lisa Martin, the home produced more energy than the house used this year. In the future the house will average about $1,000 worth of energy expenses and $1,200 in production revenues from the state. Despite the current high-cost of solar, Kitsap residents can still buy in to the solar revolution, Martin said.

“There are constant advancements, photovoltaics that are house shingles, embedded cells, film, there are unbelievable technology advances,” Martin said. “We are still at the infancy of this technology and it is extremely reliable.”

For those who can’t afford an expensive photovoltaic system, a simple start-up solar hot water system can reduce energy expenses immensely, Martin said. Saturday, even in the wind’s chill, the sun heated water in the house to 130 degrees.

“People talk about the rain and cloudy skies in Washington,” Brown said. “But this proves that solar does work here.”

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