Community solar panel project in the works for Lightcatcher Building

The city of Bellingham is currently negotiating a lease with Community Energy Solutions, a nonprofit based in Bainbridge Island, to...

The Lightcatcher Building in Bellingham may soon have a new addition to its roof: a $350,000 solar panel installation.

The city of Bellingham is currently negotiating a lease with Community Energy Solutions, a nonprofit based in Bainbridge Island. Community Energy Solutions was chosen after the city issued a request for proposals in April for solar installations on city-owned buildings.

The project would be the first of its kind in Bellingham, using a state law enacted in 2009 that gives incentives for community solar installations, meaning projects owned by a group of people rather than one person or company, on buildings owned by local governments. Details of the lease are still being worked out and the final lease will have to be approved by the City Council, said Ryan Nelson, the city’s resource conservation management specialist.

Several city buildings were considered for solar installations, such as the Sportsplex and the Parkade, but the Lightcatcher stood out as the best location, Nelson said.

“One of the issues that came up with regard to many of our facilities was scheduled roof replacements. That’s where the Lightcatcher came out as a shining star, since it’s a new building,” he said.

If a lease is approved, Community Energy Solution would build a 40 kilowatt solar installation capable to producing 44,000 kilowatt-hours per year on average, enough to power about four homes. The project would cost between $350,000 and $400,000 and would be funded by a group of local investors, said executive director Joe Deets.

“We’re looking for 10 to 20 people for the community solar project,” Deets said. “I wouldn’t want someone stretching themselves financially — it has to be someone comfortable with the investment.”

By taking advantage of state incentives for renewable energy production and for using solar modules made in Washington, the project is expected to see a 5 percent to 6 percent return on investment by the time the state incentives expire in 2020, Deets said.

The city of Bellingham could also benefit from the solar install, Deets added. After 2020, the city will have the opportunity to buy the solar installation from the group of investors.

“This gives the city a chance to go solar very cheaply,” he said.

Along with the community solar project on the Lightcatcher Building, Community Energy Solutions is also launching a campaign for residential solar installations called Go Solar Bellingham. The initiative seeks to lower the cost of solar energy by offering free site assessments and by bringing solar module manufacturers, solar installers and community lenders together to offer discounts.

“Our goal is to essentially double the photovoltaic installations in Bellingham, both in number and in size,” Deets said.

For more information, check out a Go Solar Bellingham workshop from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at the RE Store, or from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Nov. 12 at the Bellingham Library branch in Fairhaven.

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