Incentives are driving growth of solar energy — and of Poulsbo business

Installation of solar-energy systems in Washington is exempt from sales and use taxes. With the incentives in place today, a new solar system can pay for itself in five to seven years.  - Contributed
Installation of solar-energy systems in Washington is exempt from sales and use taxes. With the incentives in place today, a new solar system can pay for itself in five to seven years.
— image credit: Contributed

POULSBO — There are several incentives for Washingtonians to go solar.

Residential and commercial property owners with a “Made in Washington” solar array may be eligible for a check up to $5,000 per year for the power their panels put into the grid. At the same time, their power bill is reduced by the amount of power they produce.

Put a solar array onto your home, and you may qualify for a credit of up to 30 percent of the cost from the federal government.

Installation of solar-energy systems in Washington is exempt from sales and use taxes.

With the incentives in place today, a new solar-energy system can pay for itself in five to seven years. After that, money from all the power you generate goes into your pocket. (And you can periodically watch your meter run backwards.)

“With some of the most progressive incentives in the nation, the return on investment for Washington residents today is real and substantial,” said Tim Bailey, co-founder of Blue Frog Solar. “Working together, our state has made solar a smart buy.”

Those incentives are driving consumer investment in solar-energy systems for homes and businesses in Washington state — and driving the success of a Poulsbo-based manufacturer and distributor of solar energy equipment.

Before we go on, here’s a simplified explanation of how a solar energy system works. An array of photovoltaic panels — on your roof or on groundlevel open space — captures energy from sunlight (even when it’s cloudy). Energy goes from the panels to a microinverter, which converts the energy into AC current. That energy supplements the electricity you use from Puget Sound Energy.

When you produce more electricity than you use, that electricity is made available for use elsewhere, and PSE buys it from you.

Blue Frog Solar, 1015 Hostmark St., manufactures and distributes inverters. Working with a network of certified installers, Blue Frog Solar designs solar-energy systems for homes and businesses using APS America’s inverter technology and Itek Energy’s photovoltaic panels — all made in Washington to qualify for the financial incentives.

Advocates say solar energy, as well as wind power and natural gas, must become a bigger part of Washington’s energy future as the state nears maxing out its electricity-generating capacity.

State Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, chairman of the House Technology, Energy and Economic Development Committee, said Washington would have seen power shortages in 2011 if not for the recession, which slowed new construction and enabled utilities to catch up with demand. But he said energy deficits are predicted between 2018 and 2022.

Solar is one of the most cost-effective ways to meet future demands, Morris said.

“Under perfect conditions, it takes five years to plan [a new power plant],” Morris said. “For a solar energy system on a house, it takes literally a few months.”

To meet future energy demands in Washington state, “we roughly need a 20 percent [increase] in solar or storage technology by 2025,” Morris said. “Either one of those technologies is desirable, and it’s cheaper than building a high-voltage power plant.”

The Legislature has developed several avenues to energy efficiency. Washington was one of the first 10 states to adopt energy efficiency laws on appliances. The State Building Code Council adopted energy codes for new homes and buildings that will gradually move toward a 70 percent reduction in energy use for such buildings by 2031. All investor-owned and consumer-owned electric utilities with more than 25,000 customers must develop detailed integrated resource plans that describe the mix of generation, conservation and efficiency resources that will meet projected energy needs at the lowest reasonable cost. “Solar is always in the mix,” Morris said.

If solar is good for the environment, it’s also proving good for business. During the recession, the solar energy industry grew by 13 percent. “I think that [sales and use tax holiday] had a lot to do with that,” Morris said.

Blue Frog Solar was founded in October 2011, has 13 full- and part-time employees. The company manufactures and distributes an average of 400 inverters a month, at about $450 a pop. Production of inverters has been slowed only by itekenergy being two months behind demand.

According to Bailey, installation of solar energy systems in Washington homes and businesses is nearly doubling every year. Solar panel manufacturing output in Washington has increased sixfold over the past 24 months, driving down the cost for consumers.

“[Solar] is a great investment for consumers, but there’s a larger benefit for our Washington economy: local jobs,” Bailey said.

“The boom in demand has driven the production of solar panels and related equipment by Washington manufacturers to record levels, while professional installers in our local communities are finding new customers every day. All across the industry, those are green jobs building a greener Washington. That’s innovation.”





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