With the price of solar panels going down and their efficiency on the rise, solar energy is not merely feasible on the Oregon Coast, it may be so economical that homeowners could be missing out on significant savings by not considering a retrofit.
“I love walking out every day and seeing how much power is being produced,” said Rob Mathewson of Newport, who had a solar system installed last year. “We’re very happy with the whole thing.”
Mathewson’s system was installed by Cascade Coast Solar of Newport.
The key to saving money, explained Rio Davidson, who owns the Newport business, is tax credits and energy rebates.
“Oregon has some of the best incentives in the country,” Davidson said.
The solar systems that Cascade Coast Solar have been installing in Lincoln County homes can pay for themselves in about eight to 10 years, Davidson said.
But what about those gray, rainy, way too short winter days?
“When it comes to sunshine,” Davidson said, “Astoria is the darkest spot in Oregon. But Astoria gets more sun than Germany, which is the biggest user of photovoltaics on the planet.”
The amount of electricity that gets generated does vary through the year, Mathewson said. “In the middle of winter, not so much. But in the summer, in the middle of the day when we’re not using much power, the system produces more than we use and that electricity goes back to the PUD,” he said.
When power goes from Mathewson’s system to the Central Lincoln PUD grid, Mathewson earns credits equal to the PUD rate.
In July 2014, before his system was installed, his house used 47 kilowatt-hours per day, Mathewson said. In July 2015, with his new ground mount solar panels in place, his power usage dropped to 17 kwh per day, a 64% decrease.
Of course, with little need for air conditioning here on the coast, solar power that’s pumped into the grid on a summer day is essentially being used to cool homes in the Willamette Valley.
Mathewson ran the numbers for his installation.
“The installation cost $13,800,” he said. “Within six weeks, we received a $1,600 rebate check from the PUD.”
In addition to that rebate, Davidson said, a 3.4-kilowatt system qualifies for an Oregon tax credit of $5,130 over four years and a federal tax rebate of $3,190 in the year of installation.
The total cost of the installation after all credit and rebates come in is $2,315, Davidson said.
“By the time the credits are complete,” Mathewson said, “the monthly cost savings and energy credits will make the system pay for itself.”
Mathewson said he had been talking with Cascade Coast Solar for about a year before deciding to go ahead. “Working with Rio was great,” he said. “It took him a week or two to get the parts, but after he started it took about a month to go online.”
Davidson went with a ground mount at Mathewson’s house because it was the best way to expose the solar panels to the sun. Three trees had to be cut down.
Solar won’t work at every house.
“The key,” Davidson said, “is to have no shade, especially in the winter when the sun is low. You need to have a period from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day when the panels are completely free of shade.”
He said he encounters more houses that are not good solar candidates than houses that are.
Sometimes the roof is a problem. “You need to have at least 15 years of roof life left to qualify for the state tax credit,” he said.
It’s important to note that the Cascade Coast systems are “grid-tied,” which means they only run when power is available from the utility.
A limited amount of power can be stored in a battery backup system, Davidson said, so in a power outage, electricity can still be supplied to one outlet. A family could still run some electrical devices or even a small heater for a short time.
“Storage batteries are expensive,” Davidson said, “so it’s not yet economical to count on solar for all your power.”
Batteries big enough to power a house would cost about $6,000, he said.
“Don’t look at solar as a way to run your house,” he said, “but you can augment your power usage and power bill in a way that’s financially and environmentally beneficial.”
Davidson said he installed solar systems in 12 homes last year, and he’s interested in expanding to the northern part of the county.
“The systems have all outperformed the estimates,” he said. “Everyone’s pretty ecstatic.”
Mathewson said he has lived on the Oregon Coast for 40 years, and he knows what to expect from the weather.
“I’m sitting in Newport as we speak and it’s cloudy, but there’s plenty of power coming through the clouds. If I look at my meter today, I’d go, ‘Yeah! It’s working.’”
For more information on Cascade Coast Solar, go to www.cascadecoastsolar.com/.