Whitehorse Mountain along the Sauk River, Photographed by Keith Lazelle
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Community Solar Project at the Seattle Aquarium Is Now Online!

On December 21, 2013, Seattle City Light's second Community Solar project at the Seattle Aquarium started generating electricity. We are excited to share live data showing the amount of electricity the system generates and invite you to check back frequently to see how things change as the year progresses.

If you didn't get a chance to sign up for Community Solar at the Aquarium but would be interested in future projects, we would like to hear from you. Email SCLEnergyAdvisor@seattle.gov to tell us why you like the program and how likely you would be to participate in another project. Read on for more information about our Community Solar program, and check out our Program FAQs.

Seattle's Sustainable Energy Future

Community Solar is Seattle City Light's innovative program that allows a single utility-owned solar-electric system to produce energy that is credited to multiple customers who pay for a portion of the system cost up front. Instead of installing panels on their own homes or businesses, community members can "subscribe" to receive the benefits of an optimally located and sized solar system built and maintained by Seattle City Light. And unlike a customer-installed system, Community Solar gives participants the ability to have the benefit of solar power at a size and cost that works for them.

Why Community Solar?

Solar electric generation is an exciting part of our renewable energy future. Nevertheless, a 2008 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that only 22-27% of residential rooftop area is suitable for hosting an on-site photovoltaic (PV) system after adjusting for structural, shading, or ownership issues. Common barriers to installing solar include:
  • Site barriers -- Maybe you have a shady roof or one that is not structurally designed to hold the weight of a solar system. Or maybe your home or business is in a historic district or a community with strict aesthetic building codes.

  • Cost - Maybe the cost of installing a solar system on your own is more than you can afford.

  • Roof ownership -- Maybe you rent your home or business, or share your roof with others.

  • Ongoing maintenance -- Maybe you're not excited about maintaining an on-site solar energy system.
Community Solar allows people to pool their resources into a shared system that delivers financial payback and educational value, without having to host an installation on their own property.

How Does the Program Work?

Seattle City Light pays to build and maintain a large solar array in a location optimally situated for solar exposure and public visibility. The array generates electricity to the Seattle City Light electric grid, which further diversifies our clean energy power sources. Anyone with a Seattle City Light electric account can sign up to purchase solar units consisting of a share of the total output of the Community Solar array.

Each year through 2020, the utility credits participating Community Solar customer for a portion of the power produced by the Community Solar array. Plus, participants receive a Washington State Production Incentive specifically designed for Community Solar customers, which is double the production incentive paid to individual customers who generate solar electricity on their homes. These payments, which are based on the customer’s participation level, allow Community Solar customers to recoup all or close to all of their Community Solar participation investment within a number of years. For our Seattle Aquarium project, we anticipate that customers will receive a full return on their investment in 2019, so the 2020 incentive credit gives participants something extra.

City Light's Community Solar Projects

Picnic Shelter at Jefferson Park
Community Solar Picnic Shelter at Jefferson Park

In 2012, Seattle City Light completed its first Community Solar project at Jefferson Park in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Participating customers helped build three new picnic shelters with roofs made of solar electric panels. The site now generates approximately 26,000 kWh of clean, renewable electricity each year, while supplying park visitors with much needed shelters.

Seattle Aquarium
Community Solar at the Seattle Aquarium

Community Solar at the Seattle Aquarium opened for enrollment in September of 2013 and sold out the 1850 available units in 6 short weeks. This 44.4 kW system is ideal for its historic waterfront location that hosts more than 800,000 visitors a year (including 40,000 school children), a large south-facing unshaded roof, and its significant contribution to the Aquarium's conservation and sustainability mission.

The Seattle Community Solar Story

Seattle's Community Solar roots go back to 2008, when the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a grant to Seattle as one of 25 Solar America Cities. Despite a seemingly less-than-ideal climate for solar power, the department recognized Seattle's solar potential, forward thinking and initiative for solar energy development. Project efforts confirmed that the greatest barrier to widespread solar energy use in Seattle isn't our climate-it's awareness, planning, infrastructure, and economics. Seattle City Light is working to overcome each of those hurdles, and Community Solar is a major step in that plan.

In 2009, the WA State legislature created new renewable energy production incentives for Community Solar which doubled existing incentive rates.

Seattle was awarded a second grant from the Department of Energy Solar America Cities Program in 2010. This special project award was specifically for the development and launch of a Seattle City Light community solar program.

While we were confident that Community Solar at the Seattle Aquarium offered a more accessible program for our diverse customer base, we did not anticipate the overwhelming enthusiasm for the program. We thank our City Light customers for continued support of our community and environment and for proving that solar does work in Seattle! While we don't have firm plans for another project yet, we are exploring options for continuing this exciting program in 2014 and beyond.

We're Here to Help

You can also learn about Community Solar by talking with a Seattle City Light Energy Advisor. Email us at: SCLEnergyAdvisor@seattle.gov or Phone: 206-684-3800 (translation services available).

Seattle City Light
Attn: Community Solar Program Manager
PO Box 34023
MS 901-487
Seattle, WA 98124-4023
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