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Islanders meet PSE’s Green Power challenge in record time

When Puget Sound Energy challenged Vashon residents earlier this year to sign up for its Green Power Program, in which customers tack a few extra dollars onto their bill each month to support development of renewable energy resources, they quickly responded.

Promised a $10,000 grant for a community solar project if there were 110 new enrollments by the end of the year, the Island proved its support for renewable energy when it met the challenge in about three months. Now, PSE is upping the ante with a new challenge and another $5,000 in grant money hanging in the balance.

Heather Mulligan, who heads up PSE’s Green Power Program and has implemented similar Green Power challenges in communities such as Bellingham and Whidbey Island, said that Vashon easily had the fastest response to the program she has seen.

“We’re thrilled that Vashon met the goal that early. ... We’ve never seen a goal hit this quickly,” she said, adding that the achievement was especially impressive considering the already high program participation on the Island compared with the rest of PSE’s territory.

“Adding new numbers might be a stretch,” she said. “We were very impressed.”

There are now more than 650 Vashon customers enrolled in the Green Power Program, including 25 commercial accounts. Under the program, residential participants purchase $4 to $10 in renewable energy credits each month to support independent renewable energy projects in the Northwest. Businesses that participate pay larger amounts, based on their energy usage and the amount of their consumption they want covered by the credits.

While PSE plans to deliver on the $10,000 grant, which will be accepted on behalf of the Island by Sustainable Vashon, it also wants to see if Vashon can keep up the momentum that has been generated.

“If by the end of the year we can increase participation by 200, so another 90 participants by the end of the year, we’ll increase the grant to $15,000,” Mulligan said.

Janie Starr, a leader in Sustainable Vashon, was thrilled but not surprised that Vashon stepped up to the plate so quickly. Islanders are eager to support renewable energy, she said, and were especially willing to enroll in the Green Power Program when they understood that the money went directly to alternative energy projects and not PSE coffers.

“Connecting it to a local project makes it even more enticing,” she said, adding she is certain that Islanders will meet PSE’s most recent challenge, ensuring another $5,000 for a community solar project. “Any community project is going to cost thousands of dollars, and this 15 will be a great seed,” she said.

Though the specifics of the solar project have yet to be determined, Gib Dammann, spokesman for Vashon Community Solar Group, a project of the Backbone Campaign, is excited about the opportunities the PSE grant opens up to install a community solar project on public property.

“I know that there are some options,” he said. “One of them is to increase the size of the solar array at the high school. It might also [support] part of a larger installation, possibly at McMurray Middle School.” He added that these ideas were subject to Vashon Island School District approval.

Dammann said that Sustainable Vashon would likely consult a number of community groups when deciding how to use the grant, including the Community Solar Working Group.

Backbone Campaign director Bill Moyer is glad to see Islanders not only generate money for solar energy on the Island, but support the development of renewable energy resources that could change the way power is produced in the state.

Registering for the Green Power Program is the first step Islanders can take in making their home or business a “coal-free zone,” Moyer said. The Backbone Campaign and Sustainable Vashon hope to see the entire Island go coal-free by 2015, meaning the amount of energy Islanders either reduce or offset with green energy credits would equal the 36 percent of PSE power that is generated by coal.

While participation in

PSE’s Green Power Pro-gram, which was named Program of the Year by the U.S. Department of Energy, does not change the amount of power the company derives from coal, Starr hopes that Vashon’s commitment to renewable energy will encourage PSE to end its reliance on a fuel source considered one of the nation’s most polluting.

“Our belief is if you can work with and encourage people positively to change, that’s always the first choice,” she said.

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