Snohomish PUD opened up their Arlington Microgrid site to show their Community Solar program to local customers of the program on Sept. 21.

The Community Solar program allows Snohomish County residents to invest in a 'unit' of a solar panel that is kept at a site managed by the PUD. 

Those residents receive rebates on their power bill based on the energy generated by the panel. 

"We built this for people who it's not feasible to purchase solar panels for their home, either because of cost or shade, or because they don't have their own home because they live in an apartment," said Suzy Oversvee, senior program manager for the program.

For those who are unable to invest in solar panels for where they live, the Community Solar program offers an affordable alternative.

"I think it's really cool. I used to own a house and I had solar panels there, but I sold my house and I'm in an apartment so this is a way I can still have solar," said local Gayla Shoemake.

She said she wanted to promote cleaner energy sources in her community.

"I think we're saving the planet by producing electricity in different kinds of ways that are more sustainable," she said.

Andrea and Lael Wasson were there because a relative had invested in the program and wish they had the opportunity as well.

"I wish King County would get something like this going so we could buy into it," said Andrea Wasson.

"I think it's a great idea and I wish we'd see more of it," said Lael Wasson.

There were 8,000 units available for purchase earlier this year. Each unit represented one fifth of a panel.

About 50 percent were reserved in the first day they were available and they were sold out of units within three and a half weeks.

"We were just absolutely thrilled because it's a fairly big project, actually the largest community solar in Washington state, so we weren't sure what to expect," said Oversvee.

Snohomish PUD is keeping the door open to more community solar projects in the future, but they may not happen for a while.

"There's discussion about expanding, we just have to see how the economics work. This is our first experiment and we want to see how it goes," said Scott Gibson, engineer and project manager at Snohomish PUD.

"We don't have any plans at the moment but it is something we're considering," said Cayle Thompson, media and public relations liaison at Snohomish PUD.

Some of the panels built at the Arlington site have also been set aside to low-income housing.

"We reserved 10 percent of the project for a low-income pilot," said Oversvee. The utility district hopes to work with low-income housing organizations to provide those panels' energy to clients, she said.

In the next couple of years the Arlington site will host a new Snohomish PUD facility and a microgrid project.

"Next year we're going to add in a battery and a bunch of controller equipment to make a microgrid, which is essentially a solar-powered emergency grid," said Gibson.

If the normal grid is down, then the microgrid will be able to provide energy to the PUD facility.

"If there is a disaster or an earthquake, anything that takes down the grid, then the battery and solar will step in and power these buildings," said Gibson.

Part of the purpose of the building is to test the technology of microgrids, however it will also be a clean energy and technology center where the Snohomish PUD can help demonstrate the latest clean energy technologies.

They will also be testing other technologies there, such as devices that can take electric car energy and transfer it back to the grid.

"An electric car like that is essentially a big battery," said Gibson. "If we have a bunch of fleet vehicles and we need some power for our building, we're testing a system that can not only charge but discharge from our cars."

More information on the Arlington Microgrid site is available at snopud.com/?p=3326.

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