Solar power program gains favor in Ashland

ASHLAND — For resident Dirk Price, the choice was easy.

Price wrote a check for six new solar panels erected by the city, reducing his utility bill by the amount of power they create.

"You own the panels without any of the hassles (of installation or ownership), and it's one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint," Price said.

Under the program, called Solar Pioneer II, residents pay $825 to "adopt" a panel for 20 years and get a credit on their electric bill each year for the amount of electricity their panels generate. Residents also may buy a half or quarter panel.

The city kicked the program into gear at the start of July after obtaining business energy tax credits through the state and a low-interest loan under the federal Renewable Energy Act to erect 363 panels on a vehicle storage building behind City Hall.

Bonds were issued for $303,000 under the federal act and are being paid off by panel purchasers. With 75 panels already sold, the first year of the payback is already accomplished, said city conservation analyst Larry Giardina.

"When I heard about it, I thought it was a great idea," said Price, a musician with the Rogue Suspects. "It's our number one responsibility to be as green as we can or we won't have a planet to leave to our children and grandchildren."

A tour and dedication of the new system is planned at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Civic Center, with speeches by Price, Ashland's electric utilities director Dick Wanderscheid, installer David Parker of Advanced Energy Systems and Angus Duncan of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Correction: See below.

The system is an expansion of Solar Pioneer I, which placed solar panels atop municipal , Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University buildings at the start of the decade, said city management analyst Ann Seltzer.

Each panel generates about 230 kilowatt hours a year, which "won't even come close," Giardina said, to paying the typical home's annual electricity use of 9,600 kwh.

The panel purchaser is "hedging on the potential cost of energy in the future" by securing energy production with an up-front payment, he said.

"It's also renewable energy without any pollution or greenhouse gas emissions," Giardina said.

Price, who bought more panels than anyone in Solar Pioneer II, said, "It's a no-brainer. They did a real good job and thought this through. If you move, you can transfer (the credit) to the new house or sell it. You own the panels and you don't have to maintain them."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: The original version of this story listed the incorrect location for the dedication and tour. This version has been corrected.

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