Portland Community Solar Powers Up Big Time

Historically, the benefits of solar power have been confined to a narrow group — namely, homeowners with good solar orientation who could afford to purchase a solar photovoltaic system outright. Increasingly, however, a new model is emerging, wherein those with roof space (such as privately owned businesses, or schools) partner with local utility companies, solar installers and grassroots investors to get solar up and running in a way that benefits the neighborhood as a whole.

It’s a collaborative concept called community solar, which has already gained some traction in Oakland, California, as well as in Seattle.  In the case of the former city, solar panels were installed on the property of a non-profit organization, financed by individual households contributing just $100 a piece to offset a portion of their energy bills. In Seattle, a solar array has been installed in a local park, where solar panels double as the roofs for three picnic shelters at the park, offering residents in the surrounding area the opportunity to buy into its benefits in much the same way (though with a heftier price tag). Now, it’s Portland’s turn.

Solar power

image via Portland General Electric

Already a national leader in green power purchasing, the City of Portland recently issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) calling for collaborations between private sector entities that have “federal tax liability and an interest in owning solar electric systems” (i.e., businesses that pay taxes and utilities), “public sector entities that own roof space and have policies that support renewable energy development” (i.e., governmental entities, schools), and “non-profit organizations and/or community-based organizations involved or interested in solar energy.”

It’s a mouthful, sure, but the goal of the RFP, issued by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability(BPS), is simple: “to finance and install community-supported solar electric systems on publicly owned rooftops.”

BPS reportedly has $100,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to contribute to certain aspects of community solar development. Of course, $100,000 won’t get you a whole lot of solar panels, so respondents are required to provide a 1:1 match on these funds. Funds must be expended no later than June 30, 2012, with system installation completed no later than October 14, 2012.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.