Solar for Sakai on Bainbridge Island, Washington
Background: Community Solar on Bainbridge Island is a grassroots effort. Bainbridge residents Joe and Tammy Deets are engaged citizens with a passion for community building and reducing their climate impact. As they investigated solar’s potential to supply the Island’s energy needs, Joe and Tammy realized that many residents on Bainbridge Island lack the optimal site for investing in PV. Thus, they devised a plan to aggregate citizen investments and install a single Community Solar system on a public building. This community ownership concept, however, did not benefit from the Washington State Production Incentive at that time (2008), as this incentive program required single ownership of a PV system at a single meter (Washington SB 6170, passed in May 2009 and effective July 1, 2009, enables Community Solar projects to qualify for the incentive). As such, the proposed Bainbridge Community Solar project would not provide investors with a financial return on par with that of a privately owned project. The Deets developed an alternative approach, and formed a private, non-profit organization called Community Energy Solutions. Through this organization, they are able to raise funds for solar energy projects that do not provide power to private investors, but do provide other values to the community.
The Sakai Intermediate School on Bainbridge Island is the first entity to partner with Community Energy Solutions to host a PV project. Early on, the parties agreed to install a10-kilowatt system, a system large enough to make a material economic difference to the school, affordable from a fundraising standpoint, and whose electricity production would not exceed the Washington State Production Incentive cap. Organizers installed phase one of the project, 5.1 kW, on the school’s gymnasium roof in late 2008, and they hope to install an additional 5.1 kW in 2009, depending on the level of community participation.
Program Goals: Community Energy Solutions wants to promote the use of renewable energy on Bainbridge Island by organizing solar projects funded by private citizens’ tax-deductible contributions. The company has educational goals, as well, as exemplified by the hands-on educational opportunities afforded the Sakai School and the surrounding community.
Project Cost and Financing: Solar for Sakai was anchored by grant funds of approximately $25,000 from Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) Solar4R Schools program, which is administered by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. That money funded the first kW of PV, as well as an extensive educational program related to the project that included renewable energy curriculum, web-based data monitoring, an interactive kiosk, and in-person teacher and student training sessions. Community Energy Solutions raised an additional $30,000 through private tax-deductible contributions to fund the additional 4.1 kW installed in phase one. The total cost of the installation of this phase, including all education and community outreach measures, was about $55,000. Community Energy Solutions anticipates that phase two will cost about $50,000.
Ownership: The Sakai Middle School owns the PV system and all of the resulting power and environmental attributes. Though the local contributing citizens do not receive any payment for the energy produced from the system, they do qualify for a tax deduction as the contribution was made to a non-profit entity.
Billing: Sakai Middle School, as a single owner on a single property, qualifies for both net metering and the Washington State Production Incentives paid through PSE. Because PSE and the Bainbridge community (via Community Energy Solutions) contributed the required capital for the project, the school agreed to apply all savings and revenue from the PV generation to additional energy conservation efforts.
Marketing & Participation: Community Energy Solutions, in collaboration with the Bainbridge Island School District, led the marketing, fundraising, and overall management of the project. While Puget Sound Energy provided significant grant funds toward the project, as well providing interconnection and net metering, they played a relatively small role in the community organizing aspects of the project. The utility in this case supported the community project, but did not initiate or lead it.
Community Energy Solutions raised funds and awareness of the project through grassroots efforts. The company generated interest by posting project information on its website, attending community events, leveraging the interest of local public officials, and engaging the Sakai School community.