Oregon's solar feed-in tariff program gets an update

Residential solar projects, such as this one in Portland, are eligible to participate in the feed-in tariff pilot program.

Residential solar projects, such as this one in Portland, are eligible to participate in the feed-in tariff pilot program.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission has revised rates in its solar feed-in tariff pilot program — a program that tests incentive pay for solar energy generation — following trends that show rates appear to reflect sun exposure.

Incentive rates for distributed solar — such as solar panels on a home — will now pay more for small systems in several of the state’s rainy counties, including and surrounding Portland, but will hold steady elsewhere, and pay less for medium systems in some cases.

The changes represent the maturing of the a pilot program that launched in July 2010 offering between 55 cents and 65 cents per kilowatt hour to participants who install solar systems.

Rates in the program have been steadily revised. Now midway through the four-year program, the PUC appears to be finding more permanent pricing, though two years of tweaking are still ahead.

“Ultimately the commission is looking for that sweet spot, where the prices are in just the right place,” said Moshrek Sobhy, senior utility and energy analyst for the PUC. Recent changes, he said, are “pointing to the right direction. We may not be exactly there, but we are very close.”

The fine print: Changes include a 10 percent increase for small systems installed in Portland and surrounding counties, from 37.4 cents per kilowatt hour to 41.1 cents per kilowatt hour, while small systems in other areas of the state remain at 34.6 cents to 31.7 cents per kilowatt. The changes mostly affects homeowners who tap the program, along with a number of business that make small-scale installations, such as the solar panels that top smaller retail stores.

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

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