Power to the People: Local Solar Co-op Cuts Electricity Bills

Concentrating solar system, National Solar Thermal Test Site
In 2006, some residents of Ellensburg, Washington, took a gamble. They ponied up cash to install solar panels in a local park, in return receiving a credit on their electric bill. So far, 85 community members have invested in the project. And it’s about to expand: the park will add wind power and concentrating solar technology (it converts the sun's energy into high-temperature heat that can then generate electricity using a steam turbine or heat engine to drive a generator) with a $600,000 grant from the Energy Department through the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. The town, which owns both its electric and gas utilities, may be the exemplar for local, renewable energy in the US.

Leah Beth Ward reports in the Tri-City Herald:

It's an idea that experts say could be replicated in communities across the country. In the meantime, hoping to encourage the trend in Washington state, lawmakers increased the amount of the credit available to individuals who invest in renewable community projects. The rules implementing the credit could take effect early next year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Still, Ellensburg has a ways to go before it can run on wind and solar.

Power from renewable sources is barely a measurable fraction of the city's total load. But Bob Titus, an electrical engineer and director of Ellensburg's energy services department, said he expects solar technology to blossom over time, much like now ubiquitous cell phones.

"Everything is moving in the direction that these technologies will be cost effective. We just have to start the ball rolling," he said.

What do you think—are community renewable power parks the wave of the future?

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