Solar power offers opportunity for investment

Tacomans may soon be able to generate income and electricity at the same time.

A community solar power program was established a number of years ago through action of the Legislature. Several years ago a new component was added that allows private citizens to make money from electricity generated on public property.

Brad Burkhartzmeyer, owner of Sun’s Eye Power Company, said the state law requires at least two people to be partners in such a business venture. They can invest up to $45,000 in the solar panels and other equipment. It can be done on land owned by local governments such as cities, ports and school districts, but cannot be done on state or federal land. This program is already in place in about 10 cities around the state, including Ellensburg, Kingston and Olympia. Burkhartzmeyer said it is being considered in about eight others.

Once a parcel is identified and the government that owns it agrees to allow it to be used, the equipment is installed. Once power starts to be generated, it is sold to the host government, usually at a price lower than it would pay to a utility.

Burkhartzmeyer said this fits well with efforts of our city’s government to promote sustainability. “It directly ties in to that. This produces clean, green electricity and there is no financial outlay for the city.”

Citizens who participate receive a solar incentive from the state of $1.08 for each kilowatt of power produced. This will be available until 2020. “It is an awesome incentive,” he said. The return on investment is 10 to 15 percent, he added. “It is a good investment in these economic times.”

Burkhartzmeyer began working in the solar power field in 2004. His company, which is based in the North End, installs solar power systems. Nearly 60 businesses and residences in the city are generating electricity from solar panels on private property, he said.

About a dozen sites around the city have been identified as potential places for the community solar program, including the landfill, convention center and the police station in Northeast Tacoma. He said a number of Tacoma residents are interested in participating.

He recently briefed several members of Tacoma City Council on the idea and he said they seem supportive. He hopes this program could begin sometime in 2012. Public meetings on the topic will likely be announced in the near future.

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