Infrastructure

Washington City Considers Partnership with Solar Nonprofit

The move would make it easier and cheaper for residents to install solar arrays in Yakima.

by Kaitlin Bain, Yakima Herald-Republic / October 1, 2018
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(TNS) — YAKIMA, Wash. — It may soon get easier and cheaper to purchase and install solar panels in Yakima.

The city is exploring a possible partnership with Spark Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to expand affordable, locally controlled clean energy.

The group already partners with the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments in south Yakima County and brought a proposal to the Yakima City Council because it wants to work with a municipality. The group also is working with Mercer Island and Issaquah.

The proposal is called Solarize and is designed to simplify investing in solar energy, according to Spark Northwest.

“Our mission is to create communities powered by clean energy, and we wanted it to be locally controlled,” said Solarize program leader and Spark Northwest project manager Jill Eikenhorst.

A volunteer committee of residents would first select a solar installer that agrees to fixed pricing. Potential buyers could then learn more at a series of free educational workshops on technology, incentives and financing. After that, participants could get a free site assessment and a guaranteed price if they sign a contract within a specific time.

The Yakima City Council is expected to discuss the possibility of partnering with the group at its meeting Tuesday.

Council member Carmen Mendez, who’s a member of the Partnerships Committee that reviewed the initial proposal, said the council is expected to quickly decide if it wants to partner with Sparks Northwest.

According to a city staff memo, the recommendation is that the council direct staff to investigate a partnership directly with Spark Northwest or through the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments.

Eikenhorst said the group is specifically interested in partnering with Yakima because it wants to bring clean energy to Latino populations.

“In the past, solar has been mostly accessible to higher-income people in mainstream communities,” she said. “We want to see communities of color be able to access solar.”

Solarize’s model requires community partners — a local government, nonprofit organization or an alliance of groups with a leader — to provide a local campaign manager, community volunteers, outreach to promote workshops and workshop hosting or co-hosting.

In return, Spark Northwest provides training, curriculum and outreach templates, website and participant registration and technical assistance and expertise, according to Spark Northwest.

It’s unclear if the city would be expected to spend any money as part of the program. Eikenhorst said the cost to pay Solarize workers varies based on the project. In some cases a city or other community partner has invested the money and in other instances the group has sought other methods of funding.

“We’re just going to have to figure that piece out,” she said.

Washington private participants who decide to move forward with solar panels could be eligible for federal tax credits worth 30 percent of the installed cost, state energy production incentives or solar loans. Businesses could also be eligible for modified cost recovery programs and grants for rural small businesses.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 129 N. Second St. The City Council is expected to meet in executive session regarding pending litigation before the meeting, starting at 5:30 p.m.

©2018 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.