Cooperative efforts get major solar projects off the ground

Solar panels on the roof of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production facility in Talent are part of the first Participant-Owned Community Solar (CS) project in Oregon. True South Solar photo
August 1, 2022

Oregon Shakespeare Festival donated roof of its Talent production facility for community solar power panels

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news

Projects designed to provide solar power to residents and businesses in Ashland and Talent were discussed during a Thursday night Zoom gathering that included representatives from several groups, including Solarize Rogue, Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon Clean Power Cooperative, and the Ashland Solar Cooperative.

“It’s the first step of more to come,” predicted state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, of a pilot project that is providing solar energy to 16 Talent area homes and another affiliated with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

On March 14, the 18KW (Kilowatt) Solar project hosted by OSF went live and has produced more than 54,000 kWh (kilowatt hours). The project is also providing 20% discounts for two low-income families. Ray Sanchez-Pescador, Solarize Rogue president, characterized the program as a “truly community project.”

During the Zoom gathering, Sanchez-Pescador said the impetus for the solar projects began in 2017 and included two years of town hall meetings. Those sessions resulted in modifications to plans originally considered by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. “It was a great experience for all of us,” he said. “We were doing something nobody had done in Oregon.”

The Energy Trust of Oregon provided nearly a third of the $310,000 cost for the program, which included placing solar panel arrays on the roofs of homes and the OSF production building in Talent. Sixteen households, ranging from Rogue River to Greensprings, helped with the costs. Sanchez-Pescador termed the program “unique” because it is the only owner-owned project in Oregon.

“It makes you feel like you’re really doing something,” said Jane Barden, one of the participants who had used solar energy in California before moving to the Rogue Valley.

“We need to do everything we can to avoid the consequences of climate change,” echoed Jim Hartman, president of the Ashland Solar Co-op, who invested in the project by buying 17 panels. Hartman said he’s been told his investment will be returned as energy savings in 10 years.

Eleanor Ponomareff, president of the Talent City Council, said the project is “a model of what can be accomplished” and provides “proof of hope” in a community devastated by the 2020 Almeda Fire.

Ryan Cook of the Energy Trust of Oregon termed the project as a “pathway” for future projects in Oregon. Cook said the Trust’s goal is to provide 150 megawatts, including 16 megawatts for owner-participants plus low-income households. “This one stands out,” he said of the community-owned project that he called “a rare achievement … I hope there will be more like this.”

Praise was echoed by Bridget Callaghan, senior energy program manager for Sustainable Northwest and Alan Journet of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, who believes transitioning from oil and coal to solar will “serve the purpose of greening the grid.”

Marsh reiterated her belief that climate change is a priority and praised the project because, “It helps our community understand we can take care of ourselves” by “doing it in a way that is community based.”

Dan Orzach of the Oregon Clean Power Co-op said that while the OSF project is a cooperative project, the Talent-based project is community based. He said other projects are being studied throughout Oregon, including a combination solar-ag project with a Jackson County rancher and a far larger project with the Modoc Point Irrigation District in Klamath County.

Responding to questions from Ro Lewis, a project owner, Sanchez-Pescador said people interested in participating in upcoming solar projects should contact the Oregon PUC — “We’re asking for all of you to spread the word.”

When queried by Gary Gilbreth about the possibility of solar panels for “big box” stores, Sanchez-Pescador said talks are ongoing with businesses like the Klamath Falls Walmart. Despite some hesitancy, “some organizations are moving in that direction.” Large businesses could “host” solar arrays. He noted the solar panels on OSF facilities in Talent and Ashland were installed at no cost to the festival, adding, “I wish there were more people like the OSF management.”

OSF executive director David Schmitz, who participated for only a portion of the gathering before exiting to help his son celebrate his 11th birthday, termed OSF’s participation as “our small way for us to give back,” terming the ongoing efforts for green energy as “concrete solution actually based on action.”

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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