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Solar industry keeping close watch on Legislature’s moves

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The result of the Legislature’s decision could greatly impact Washington’s solar industry. (AP file photo)

Solar industry keeping close watch on Legislature’s moves

As the Legislature gears up for a special session, solar panel manufacturers are watching closely to see what subsidies will make it through. No matter what the outcome, the impact on Washington’s solar industry will be huge.

Over the last 10 years, the solar business has exploded, and that’s in large part due to enticing federal and state incentives. About 10,000 homes and businesses are powered by the sun in Washington. Ten years ago, there were only 100.

Tyson Chaplin, of Bothell, spent about $30,000 on his solar panels a year ago. He expected to make back his return in less than five years. If the incentives change in a way that some lawmakers have proposed, he wouldn’t get the return on his investment for 10-15 years.

From his kitchen table, Chaplin points to his electric bill.

“I have banked $283 worth of power,” he said. “If I were to use more this month and not produce any, my bill would still be zero,” he said.

Chaplin says he preaches about solar to everyone he knows.

“Pretty much all my friends know that I have solar,” he said. “At first, I was a skeptic. I thought it was too good to be true, but the proof is in the pudding. I do not have a utility bill.”

At the moment, Chaplin gets 54 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy his panels produce. It’s a taxpayer-funded subsidy. And that’s because the panels were made in Washington. After the new solar bill passes, will he be able to continue getting that rebate? And how much will new customers get? These are among the many details to be sorted out in this bill.

Jeremy Smithson owns Seattle-based Puget Sound Solar and is the legislative director for the local solar industry professional group, the Solar Installers of Washington.

He says he’s nervous.

“This is the third session we’re trying to get a bill through and now it is now a political football between Governor Inslee and Senator Doug Ericksen,” he said.

Smithson is paying close attention as the session winds down and the solar bill’s original sponsors, like Representative Jeff Morris, are working to see how much will end up going towards solar.

Chaplin talks ecstatically about how great the saving is when you go solar. He doesn’t mention the environmental benefits until he’s prodded.

“A lot of my friends they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re getting crunchy on us. You’ve gone hippy. You’re a granola person now,” he said.

He says that’s not true. However, the environmental stuff is also pretty good.

“I have two small children who leave their lights on in the bedrooms and it’s nice to know that the energy that is being used is not from hydroelectric or coal or from any fossil fuels,” he said. “It’s energy created on my roof.”

One of the co-authors of the bill, Representative Norma Smith, believes the state’s solar industry will be self-sufficient whenever the incentives end.

Either way, it seems solar is here to stay. The question is how great of a deal it will be for new customers.

source : MyNorthwest

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