Editor’s note: This commentary is part of a series, Green Briefs, published in The Beachcomber in partnership with the Whole Vashon Project.
A few months ago, the Vashon Beachcomber ran an article on the new King County solar array at our Transfer Station with 348 panels that have the capacity to support 24 island homes. This is an important addition to our island goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
That article raises the question: what additional solar capacity do we currently have on Vashon? Are we trending in the right direction? What’s the goal? How do we get there?
The good news is that there are now close to 400 Vashon homes with an operational solar array. While this is an impressive number of solar installs, there are almost 6000 houses on Vashon. Doing the math, solar now provides about 5% of Vashon’s electricity needs. While that’s a good start, we could do a lot better.
What’s a realistic goal of residential solar arrays on Vashon?
According to Vashon islander Evan Leonard, vice-president of Artisan Electric, a solar installer, 30% of Vashon homes or about 2000 have enough sun to host viable solar panels. Realistically, Evan would like to see 10% of Vashon homes with solar, or 600 arrays, by 2025.
We’re on track to meet and even exceed this goal. The bigger goal, of course, is to see solar energy embedded in our larger vision of sustainability with 2000 solar-paneled homes producing our island energy needs.
Interest in solar is increasing. It took 10 years to get our first 100 solar arrays, five years to hit the second 100 additional arrays, two years to hit the third 100 installs, and just 18 months to reach the last 100 arrays. Solar contractors are seeing a big increase in solar interest.
Interest in a solar installation is driven by a number of factors.
There are homes with solar panels now in almost every Vashon neighborhood; if you’re out walking, they’re frequently seen, causing an increased awareness in their viability. With climate change front and center, many recognize solar as a way to decrease fossil fuel reliance.
And with an increase in electric vehicle adoption, a home solar unit provides an energy production-usage circle.
The pandemic caused us all to spend more time at home, remodels were up and solar was an integral piece. Solar install costs have come way down in the past 10 years. Solar install contractors are part of communities now: Artisan Electric is a Vashon-based business that does a lot of solar work here as well as in Seattle — the company has installed 300 systems on island.
If you own a home in an area with good sun exposure and need a nudge to install solar, there are additional incentives.
Leonard, of Artisan Electric, notes that the federal tax credit has been extended twice, and is likely to be extended again by the end of the year. Battery technology has improved as well, so a solar array and in-home battery system could replace generators — an important consideration with potential brown-outs and blackouts caused by the inter-connectedness of our grid to areas experiencing wildfires and other weather disruptors.
Economically, with a solar install, your home energy usage from PSE will reduce drastically with savings of $1000 to $1500 a year. And, it’s incredibly satisfying to sell electricity to PSE (net metering), causing even more of a drop in a home electric bill. PSE rates are anticipated to increase double digits over the next 3 years.
Vashon has a number of commercial solar installs: a shout out to those businesses, which include Burton Auto, Sawbones, the Sheffield Building, the Methodist Church, Vashon Intuitive Arts, Vashon High School and the Harbor School.
What’s possible? Germany has a modest amount of sunshine yet is a world leader in shifting from fossil fuels to now producing 46% of its energy from renewables—solar and wind.
So while Vashon solar now contributes 5% of our needs, we have a ways to go. Let’s step up our involvement. If you own your home and have sun exposure, talk to an installer. Very low-interest loans are available to finance the costs, the monthly pay-back is immediate, and there is immense satisfaction in knowing your home is helping to reduce fossil fuel reliance.
Can we get to 800 solar-powered homes by the end of 2025? Let’s try!
Lynn Greiner lives on sunny Maury Island in a house with solar panels that generate a lot of electricity. She is active in various island organizations, including the Whole Vashon Project. Find out more about the organization at wholevashonproject.org.