New solar incentive promises scant business benefit

A pilot program geared to boost the number of solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses across Oregon will allow few opportunities for businesses to build medium and large solar installations in its first four years, experts say.

The Oregon Legislature approved the creation of the feed-in tariff program in July 2009. The Oregon Public Utilities Commission, which will operate it, approved additional rules Friday.

Under those rules, those who qualify for the program are paid to generate solar power from newly built systems regardless of whether they consume the electricity generated or sell it back to the grid.

Participants go to the free market to build the systems and shoulder the costs. Once they’re up and running, however, they can receive payments between 55 and 65 cents per kilowatt-hour for systems smaller than 100 kilowatts for 15 years. That rate will undergo review every six months. Rates for systems larger than 100 kilowatts are set by a competitive bidding process.

Both small and large-sized systems are eligible for federal tax credits, but not state tax credits or incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon.

Customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Idaho Power — which account for 75 percent of electricity customers in Oregon — are eligible. Businesses and homeowners alike can begin filing applications with the utilities to participate July 1, and a first-come, first-serve process for approving applicants could send hoards of prospective solar generators scurrying.

Those familiar with the program, however, say it will have few short-term impacts for businesses, benefiting primarily residential customers in its inaugural four years.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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