Solar panels power Portland, Oregon energy savings



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Posted on May 17, 2011 at 11:41 PM

PORTLAND, Oregon — "This is a photovoltaic system," said Dave Tooze, an energy specialist with the City of Portland.

Translation? Solar into electricity. There is a lot of it here in Portland, Oregon; from buildings to schools.

Even the parking meters are powered by the sun.

"It makes our community more livable," Tooze said. "It saves the taxpayers money, and it passes on to the next generation a clean form of generating electricity."

But he said making this work for taxpayers in Portland is a timing game, and tax incentives are key.

"First of all, solar works," Tooze said. "And because of great federal tax credits, now is a good time to take a look — a serious look — at doing solar systems throughout the Dallas area."

Several North Texas cities are taking note.

Duncanville just installed solar on three buildings: City Hall, the library recreation center, and the senior center, saving taxpayers $26,000 a year.

Cedar Hill has solar panels on its government building, saving the city $21,000 annually.

Between the two cities, environmentally, it's like removing nearly 60 average-size cars from the road.

For the past seven years, Portland  has been setting up solar collection centers. Adding savings from the fire department, the aquatic center, and the Portland water bureau together, taxpayers save nearly $40,000 a year. And that's only naming a few.

"When does the sun shine? It shines in the afternoon," Tooze said. "When do you run your air conditioners? Hot days in the afternoon. So the same time these solar panels are creating electricity is the same time that you have a great demand for electricity."

So what do six rows of solar panels actually mean to you? If you do the math, that array will power 25 Portland homes for an entire year.

That success encouraged the local school districts to get on board, too.

"It's about a $6 million installation across the nine schools," said Christina Skellenger with Gerding Edlen Development Company.

They're not using glass, but rather thin film solar collectors that you can't even see from the street. Over 20 years, the savings is expected to hit $1 million.

"This is going to offset about 40 percent of their electrical load for the school, so they're going to see their bills drop in half," Skellenger said.

In Oregon, third party investors pay for the installation, have ownership for seven years, then hand it off.

Cedar Hill and Duncanville both got federal grants, along with large rebates from Oncor to make these projects virtually cost-free to taxpayers.

And there's an added bonus — on average, the sun is shining in North Texas 61 percent of the time. The figure is just 41 percent in Portland, but that's still enough for real savings.

"We aim low," Skellenger said. "We produce our estimates conservatively. So everything beyond that is gravy."

And in North Texas, that gravy could be thick, thanks to Mother Nature.

"The advantage of the system for Dallas, Texas is a 267 kilowatt system could produce 40 kilowatts of power, versus the 27 kilowatts that we get here," Tooze said.

The more sun, the more savings.