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Community solar project clears major hurdle
The Backbone Cam-paign’s effort to create the first community solar project in King County cleared a major hurdle last week when a state agency gave it the green light to begin soliciting investors.
As a result of the decision by the state Department of Financial Institutions, the Vashon-based group can begin the next chapter in its project, securing enough investments to build the $540,000 installation — a 65-kilowatt solar array that will kick out enough power to fuel seven houses a year.
Bill Moyer, director of the Backbone Campaign, said the state’s imprimatur means the “moment of truth” has arrived for the ambitious project.
“We’ve worked very hard, using the resources we were given, to get to this place,” he said. “Now it’s up to the community. My hope is that we’ll do something of significance.”
At the same time, he acknowledged, the project is behind — it lost one summer of possible solar production — because of the many roadblocks it had to clear.
“We’re like the Hobbit,” he said. “Every time we cross a mountain pass, there’s another one ahead.”
Carol Eggen, a former airline executive who stepped in to help Moyer with the project, said she was pleased by the latest development — the state agency gave the campaign an exemption from a requirement to register as a security. The process, though complex, has led to a better project, she said. “I think our offering materials are clearer.”
With the exemption in hand, Eggen said, county officials can now take their next step, transmitting a proposed contract between the Backbone Campaign and the county to the King County Council for approval. The community solar project, should it win council approval and garner enough investors, will be built at the county’s Transfer Station on the Westside Highway.
Both Eggen and Moyer said they’re excited they can now talk openly about the project and begin the process of seeking investors. But because they’ve been legally limited in what they could say until now, they also don’t know how their message will be received.
“My hope is that people will seize the moment,” Moyer said.
Under the project they’ve developed, people can donate as little as $1,000 to participate in Vashon Community Solar, making it, Eggen and Moyer say, an opportunity for Islanders of modest means to support the growing effort to create renewable energy sources.
Community solar projects are taking place in communities across the state and around the country, most of them driven by tax and financial incentives offered by the government in an attempt to jump-start the fledgling solar panel manufacturing industry and bring more green power into the grid. Vashon’s project represents the first one in the county, a project county officials hope will become a prototype for other neighborhoods and communities.
Eggen said the return on investments will be modest — around 1 to 2 percent a year. But there’s potential for higher returns, she said; the state, for instance, could extend incentives slated to sunset in 2020.
Mostly, though, she and Moyer hope people will find their vision compelling.
“We just have to find the funds and build what we can build,” Moyer said.
The Backbone Campaign will hold its first presentation about its community solar project at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Land Trust Building. Information is also available at http://vashoncommunitysolar.org or by calling Backbone at 408-8058.