Solar Power on Mercer Island
Community Solar Project - 2015
NEW! Based on the significant interest generated by the 2014 Solarize program (see below), the City has researched another clean energy project that would lower the Island's carbon footprint and offer a way for even more residents to support solar. A large solar installation proposed for the roof of City Hall is getting closer to becoming a reality, and interest is building among Islanders.
"Community Solar" projects provide a way for residents to support solar, even if they don't have a suitable location on their own property. Several such projects have recently been completed by Seattle City Light, and there are many other examples across the state. By contributing the upfront funds to install the project (generally about half the cost of a personal installation), each participant becomes an owner-investor, and is paid by the state --this year at a rate of $1.08/kilowatt-hour-- for the energy produced by the array. This is double the rate paid for residential installations.
Annual production estimates are approximately 80,000 kilowatt-hours for the full-sized installation, and each investor is expected to see an annual return on investment, depending on their personal tax situation (though we cannot guarantee a specific return, or the State payment rate).
The 273-panel, 75 kilowatt array has been deemed technically feasible after experts assessed roof condition and lifespan, and explored the necessary electrical connections. By comparison, the City's solar array at the Community Center (see below) is 4.4 kilowatts in size.
The City hopes to find enough investor participants to build the full-size project, but must close registration by late summer 2015. Note: Investors must be WA residents.
Contact City Sustainability Manager Ross Freeman for more information, or call (206) 275-7662.Project
- Sept 2015: We have all investors needed, but please contact Ross Freeman to add your name to the (short) waitlist, in case some investors drop out.
- Nov 2015: Due to State limits on the amount of solar funds available to our Utility (PSE), we are waiting until early 2016 to assess the recalculated financials of the project.
- Mar 2016: Solar advocates were hoping that a bill in the State Legislature would have raised the cap on production incentives available to solar projects. That bill did not pass, and therefore the rate of return on solar projects will start to drop this summer. We are in a holding pattern at this time, pending further information.
Solarize Mercer Island - 2014 Residential Solar Installation Campaign
The official contracting deadline for the Solarize campaign was Oct 31, 2014 -- new applications are no longer being accepted. Even though Solarize has ended, the City encourages you to consider rooftop solar: the equipment costs keep dropping, and the state and federal incentives are still active. Most residents find they can cover 50-70 percent of their annual power needs with clean, green power.
To learn about the easy, same-day City permitting process for installing rooftop solar, click here.
The City appreciates receiving grant funding that made this program possible from the WA Dept of Commerce (Northwest Solar Communities), and the King Conservation District.
The City signed an agreement in early 2014 with regional non-profit group Northwest SEED to launch a mass solar installation initiative here on Mercer Island. The Solarize Mercer Island campaign was run jointly by Northwest SEED, the City, committed citizen volunteers, and with financial support from the Washington Dept of Commerce, King Conservation District, and Puget Sound Energy (PSE).
This exciting opportunity builds on several recent achievements:
-- The success of the City's 2012 Green Power sign-up campaign, which expanded by 55% the number of households choosing to spend a little extra on their PSE power bills for clean, green energy. Over 750 accounts now participate on the Island.
-- Winning a grant from PSE to install the City's first public solar array at the Community Center in July 2013.
-- Earning national recognition as just one of two EPA Green Power Communities in 2013
How it Works:
By gathering dozens of interested homeowners, the campaign offered 10-15 percent off normal pricing due to the cost efficiencies of mass purchasing. The State of Washington's solar incentives at the time meant a typical system was projected to pay for itself in just five years, depending on equipment selected, and should then last another 20-30 years. Low-interest solar loans were also available from local banks and credit unions.
The first step for homeowners and business-owners interested in installing solar panels on their rooftop was to attend one of 5 public informational workshops, offered in-person or online June through October 2014. See photos from the first workshop on our City Facebook page.
After attending a 90-minute workshop, attendees were eligible for a free site assessment to determine the feasibility of their desired rooftop location, and hundreds of residents took advantage of this offer.
Islanders who then decided to pursue the opportunity signed a contract directly with the qualified solar installer (Northwest Wind & Solar) pre-selected by a Solarize volunteer committee through a competitive RFP process.
Campaign Goal & Successes:
The initial goal of the campaign was 30 signed contracts, with a "stretch goal" of 40 or more. By the end of 2014, we reached 47 contracts (46 residential and 1 small-business), with a combined capacity of 320 kilowatts (kW). That's over 70 times the capacity of the array at the Community Center. Solarize installations averaged 7kW in size, but some were right at the 10kW maximum.
Before the 2014 Solarize campaign, the Island had just 32 arrays, with a generating capacity of 170 kilowatts.
Challenge Grant: ["30 by October 30"]
Our selected solar contractor generously offered to give back to the community, if we reached our campaign goal, by donating a 2-panel solar array to Mercer Island (and labor), for installation at a local non-profit or government venue. For every 10 contracts beyond that, we won another solar panel to be added to the array.
For more information about Solarize Mercer Island, email City Sustainability Manager Ross Freeman or call (206) 275-7662.
Learn about streamlined City solar permitting here.
Download a Solarize factsheet here.
To learn about Solarize campaigns in general, visit Solarize Washington here.
To learn more about all the financial incentives currently available for solar in WA, click here.
City-Owned Solar Installation - 2013
In July 2013, work crews completed and activated the first City-owned solar power project on the Island. Built entirely with grant money from Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and citizen donations, the 22-panel installation located at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center will produce approximately 4468 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, using solar panels and electrical inverters made in Washington State.
|Community Center solar array and supporters|
At a July 23, 2013, event, Mayor Bruce Bassett led partners, City staff, and key community stakeholders in a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony and open-house celebration. Mercer Island's success in meeting Puget Sound Energy's Green Power Challenge (to encourage adoption of renewable energy by Washington communities), led to a $30,000 challenge grant for the solar photo-voltaic (PV) project. In 2012, a citizen-based Green Ribbon Commission persuaded an additional 250 homes and businesses on Mercer Island to sign up, increasing enrollment by 55%. Area residents supportive of solar power donated an additional $5,500 towards the project.
How It Works
The installation is connected directly to the Mercer Room in the Community Center, helping power that facility and replacing power that the City would otherwise buy. The array also generates approximately $2,500 per year in revenue under the Washington State Production Incentive Program. This income will be invested in additional energy-efficiency measures.
Interested community members can check on the power production of the solar array at any time by visiting our E-gauge webpage [if your browser is up to date, it will also load at the bottom of this page]. Peak production usually occurs near noon each day, and will be highest in the summer months, although modern panels do produce energy even during cloudy and rainy weather. A green line depicts power output, while a red line tracks power consumed by the Mercer Room; when the green number is greater than the red number, most of the room is running on solar power, and any excess power is distributed to the rest of the building. The E-gauge website also details the cost savings over time.
|Click for E-Gauge Website|
As of July 2013, this City-owned array was the 25th solar project on the Island, and it brought the local production of renewable energy from solar PV to 124 kW installed. You can add your home or business to that list and start earning production income too! Learn more about renewable energy options.
Size: 4400 Watts (4.4kW)
Annual production estimate: 4468 kilowatt-hours
Number of panels: 22 x 200-Watt Silicon Energy modules
Inverter: Silicon Energy 5300
Racking: Schletter Custom Racking System
Installer: Artisan Electric, Inc.
More installation and event photos can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/CityOfMercerIsland
The Bigger Picture
Solar power is just one component of a much broader City effort to address greenhouse gas impacts of both government operations and local residents. Examples of other programs include: improving vehicle fleet efficiency, implementing energy-saving measures in City buildings, promoting green building standards, supporting the expansion of electric vehicles, and sustainability outreach programs. Collectively, these actions will help steer the City towards meeting a 2007 resolution by the City Council to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by the year 2050.
Here is the real-time power production
(green line) of the City's public solar installation, and the
real-time power consumption (red line) of the Mercer Room at the Community and Event Center:
(If there's no image, you may need to update your web browser, or click here to visit the
E-Gauge page directly