City approves ‘buy back’ for green customers

Published on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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City approves ‘buy back’ for green customers

By Tara Nelson

The city of Blaine has just made it easier to be green.

In their regular meeting Monday, Blaine City Council approved an agreement that would allow city utility customers with means of producing alternative energy to sell their surplus energy back to the city in exchange for credit on their future bills.

Blaine public works director Steve Banham said the new ordinance comes after recent federal legislation that requires all utility companies to provide an opportunity for customers who are able to generate more power than they need to get credit for that power through a procedure called net-metering.

It also provides customers and the city a smooth transition from high-energy producing months of summer to the low energy producing months of winter, he said.

“Anytime your system produces more than you need, it’s basically going to run your meter backwards, so they’re basically paying you for the electricity that you use,” said Jack Hardy, president of Western Washington Solar, a Bellingham-based contracting company that deals in renewable power.

Hardy said over the last few years, he’s seen interest in solar power jump exponentially, with more than 20 installations of various sizes performed in the past year from Olympia to Blaine.

The company recently installed one of the first residential grid-tied solar electric systems within the city’s service area. The 2.16 kilowatt system is located on a home on Skyline Road in East Blaine and consists of 10 roof-mounted solar panels that will provide the household with about 2,200 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.

Homeowner Sonja Duncan said she was looking for a way to invest her money while owning up to her environmental ideals.“There’s a saying that goes, ‘Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can,’” she said. “I’ve been trying to apply that philosophy to a lot of things and this is something I could do.”

Duncan said although the price was not cheap – about $17,500 – the system should recover the cost in energy savings within five to six years. After that, the annual return on the investment could be as much as 15 percent.She also said studies show for every $1,000 saved on electricity bills each year, the value of a home increases by 20 percent.
“With those numbers in mind, I started looking at the return on it and decided I could afford to do this,” she said.

When asked how much the average system saves in energy costs per year, Hardy said it’s difficult to say because there are so many variables.

Other factors include a Federal individual income tax credit (usually $2,000) as long as installations are completed by December this year, increased home value and possible increases in electric rates in the future. He also said this particular system will reduce carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 44 tons over the next 25 years, equivalent to 88,000 auto miles.

“It depends on a number of things, including how much energy a household uses, the site location, the placement and size of the panels and the weather,” he said. “But it could be as much as $1,000 a year for some. But almost every system owner will see a 13.2 percent annual return on their investment that is also tax-free.”

Western Washington Solar can be reached by calling 360/319-0961. Their website is www.westernwashingtonsolar.com Net meters are available for $416 from the city of Blaine by calling 332-8820.