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Bree Hocking

The Switch: Solar Power

OPB | June 10, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:53 p.m.

It might seem like an oxymoron in the rainy Northwest, but when it comes to renewable resources solar is actually Oregon’s most abundant. But it’s also the most expensive — so expensive that Jeff King of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council says its difficult “to justify spending lots of money on solar built in the Northwest when it so obviously appears to be more suitable for the Southwest.” King asserts: “We’ve got much lower cost renewables available for development.” But even so, the state has invested heavily in recruiting solar companies.

On the residential level, some individuals say it’s the right thing to do irrespective of cost. For instance, Jennifer Bies took out a home equity line of credit to foot the $24,000 bill for her Portland bungalow’s solar water heater and photovoltaic panels. While the system has yet to pay for itself, Bies says a combination of state, federal and Energy Trust rebates and incentives will significantly reduce her initial outlay over time. And more help may be on the way. A bill under consideration (pdf) in the state legislature would create a pilot program to make investor-owned utilities buy back energy produced from new solar panels at a set price for both commercial and residential customers.

So do the long-term savings of solar justify the investment? And what about lower-income individuals who may be unable to write the big check required to purchase the systems? Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Dan Nocera says research he is doing into the storage of solar power may help alleviate its costs.

What’s the best and most cost effective kind of solar energy? And how should we fund it?

Have you outfitted your home or business with solar energy? Did the cost and energy savings deliver as promised? What’s the best policy for the state on solar power?

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