Bend residents warming up to the idea of rooftop solar panels

Posted on in category Local

Hey, why not run your home with the power of solar and save big money? We like the idea of turning all the sun we get here in Central Oregon into savings..

Original article by Michael Kohn of the Bulletin

Solar panels join the COVID-era business boom

When professional snowboarder Austin Smith decided he was going to build a home on Bend’s west side, one of the first design elements he employed was a south-facing roof. With solar panels on top, he would be able to maximize the amount of energy he could harness from the sun.

There were multiple reasons to put the panels on his home but doing his part to reverse global warming was most important.

“I love snowboarding, and I love winter, and I love consistent and stable winters and those are becoming fewer and far between with the changing temperatures of the world, so we gotta do what we can,” said Smith, who makes regular appearances in snowboard videos and magazines.

Smith, 32, is part of a small but growing army of Bend residents who are turning to solar power to heat and power their homes. Some do it for environmental reasons and others for economic benefits. While there is a substantial upfront cost, over time the installation cost is balanced out by lower monthly power bills.

The state of Oregon is helping, too, with incentives. House Bill 2021 appropriates $50 million to the Oregon Department of Energy to award grants for community renewable energy projects, which could be used to fund solar panel installation costs. The Oregon Department of Energy expects to roll out the program in Spring 2022.

Robert Del Mar, senior policy analyst at the Oregon Department of Energy, said the city of Bend has been one of the best participants in other state incentive programs. These include the Solar + Storage Rebate Program, which has also been allocated additional funding by the Legislature to issue rebates for projects.

“Bend is certainly holding its own and performed well in the first round of the solar and storage rebate program,” said Del Mar. “Residential projects did really well in Bend. The Bend contractors came through in delivering those incentives to Central Oregon.”

Del Mar said the Oregon Department of Energy could not provide an accurate number of homes with panels since not all panel owners participated in a past Oregon Department of Energy program.

The hope for Smith, and others who purchase the panels, is that they can achieve net-zero usage, that is, what they use in energy equals the amount of energy their panels produce.

Israel said his business is up 25% over sales a year ago. In pre-pandemic times, the number of installations was typically growing about 5-10% a year. The only thing that is keeping growth from reaching an even faster pace is a limited workforce. There simply aren’t enough qualified journeyman electricians to hire, he said.

In addition to boosting sales, COVID-19 is also having an impact on costs. Due to supply chain disruptions, the cost of materials is making the panels 10% more expensive compared to pre-pandemic times. However, prices are still vastly cheaper compared to a decade ago.

For example, a typical home these days can have 16, 350-watt solar panels installed for around $18,000, said Israel, compared to around $28,000 in the early 2010s. Costs for materials are lower, and there are also subsidies and rebates that reduce installation costs. Pacific Power, for example, offers a $900 rebate on solar panel installations.