New panels double solar energy output at Greenbank Farm
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
January 25, 2012 · Updated 8:55 AM
Solar energy is becoming a larger part of Whidbey Island’s publicly owned farm.
Workers from Whidbey Sun and Wind have been busy this month installing two more solar arrays at the Greenbank Farm. The new panels will double the energy the solar panel project produces. Two solar panels currently produce 25 kilowatts of power, which will go up to 50 kilowatts when the new panels get connected to the grid this week.
John Hastings, who heads Island Community Solar, said approximately $400,000 has been raised for installation of all of the arrays. The alternative-energy boosters raised the money by attracting community investors. The Port of Coupeville, which owns the Greenbank Farm, provided the land and infrastructure needed for the project.
There is currently room for 12 solar arrays on one acre of land at the Greenbank Farm. Island Community Solar has reserved enough space to build two more arrays in addition to the four current ones. However, another fundraising campaign has to take place first to gather the approximately $200,000 needed to pay for the additional arrays, Hastings said.
The other half of the solar project land is devoted to other organizations to venture into renewable energy. Bellingham’s Cascade Community Wind has reserved the other half of the property and has already installed the underground conduits to connect into the power grid.
People investing in Island Community Solar will receive a return on their investment in the form of $1.08 per kilowatt, provided by the state to encourage solar power efforts. By comparison, Island Community Solar receives only 5 1/2 cents from Puget Sound Energy for every kilowatt produced.
Even though the Legislature is currently trying to resolve a billion-dollar budget shortfall, Hastings hasn’t heard anything suggesting that the state subsidy may be at risk.
“The state would be shooting itself in the foot if they took that away,” Hastings said, citing a figure that the state’s $1 million investment has brought in $65 million in business.
“I think the state Legislature wants to promote the development of an industry,” Hastings said.
Island Community Solar is working with Washington businesses to ensure its investors receive the highest possible return on their investment.
The Whidbey company purchased its solar arrays from Silicon Energy, which is located in Marysville. Hastings said a Bellingham company, iTech, recently opened and Hastings hopes the price for solar arrays will drop in the coming year.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.