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She’s a (solar) powerful force

Posted in Climate, Environment, Renewable energy, Solar on July 9th, 2014 by Susan – 1 Comment
Photo of Ellen Lamiman with solar panels

Consultant Ellen Lamiman, owner of Energy Solutions in Winthrop, helped a group of Leavenworth women meet their goal of building a community solar farm on the roof of Icicle River Middle School.

PrintWant to build a solar system? Consultant Ellen Lamiman knows how to get ‘er done

When three Leavenworth women decided their city should have the first community solar system in Chelan County, they turned to the woman who had helped build the first community solar system in Washington state.

Consultant Ellen Lamiman of Winthrop put the Leavenworth project on a fast track and within five months, a 19-kilowatt system was up and running – way up, that is, on the roof of Icicle River Middle School. It was connected to Chelan County PUD’s electrical grid on June 27.

In 2010, Lamiman brought a 20-kilowatt system to the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative in Winthrop – the first community system to take advantage of generous incentives under the Washington Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Program. In 2006, she had served as a consultant for construction of the state’s first community solar farm in Ellensburg, a project that helped smooth the way for development and passage of the current state incentive program.

Lamiman said she had been contacted several times by various Leavenworth residents about setting up solar in town. But it wasn’t until members of Faith Lutheran Church called her that a project gelled this year. Members of the church’s Earth Stewardship Group, reading a book on climate change by Frances Moore Lappé, were motivated to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint. They called Lamiman.

Lamiman said Lisa Therrell, Mary Carol Nelson and Karen Strom “stuck with it” even though the paperwork, technical specifications and laws around community solar are “way, way out of the box for them.”

Anyone who’s met Lamiman knows she’s a force to be reckoned with, too.  When you’re a pioneer with a passion for what you’re doing – and Lamiman’s experience with solar stretches back 19 years – you’ve got to be.

photo of completed solar project at Icicle River Middle School

The solar system at Icicle River Middle School was connected to Chelan PUD’s electrical grid on June 27. Investors will be paid through a state incentive program and the school will receive funds through the PUD’s SNAP program.

You need to navigate the complicated state program and its associated pitfalls, including securities rules designed for bigger corporations, not small local projects. To ease the regulatory way for the Leavenworth endeavor, Lamiman struck upon the idea of using the church’s nonprofit status to apply for an exemption. The catch: Shares in the community solar project could only be advertised or sold to people who had had some involvement or relationship with the church or middle school.

Not a problem, said Lamiman, who learned long ago that “in all cases it really boils down to trust. Everyone thinks solar is a great idea but no one’s going to put up money if they don’t have that trust” in the people planning each project.

Lamiman has helped establish 35 or 40 systems around the state, some in the backyards of friends and acquaintances, others large and showy like the new one at Leavenworth. Her first installation was at the Okanogan Electric co-op where in 1995 she installed what she thinks may have been the first utility-owned, grid-tied, battery-based system in the country. “To this day that system runs and backs up all computers, the telephone system and emergency lights,” she said. “That launched my career.”

Prior to that she had coordinated Bonneville Power Administration’s conservation program for co-op members.

She runs her business, Energy Solutions, from her home. She hasn’t had any trouble finding takers for solar in her area, where power costs are more than double Chelan County PUD’s residential rate of 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour. Thirty-one co-op members signed on to the 2010 project within two weeks. So many people had wanted to invest, in fact, that a second project was built near Winthrop’s sewage treatment plant. That 23-kilowatt project, with 49 investors, began producing power in 2011.  And in 2012, a 35-kilowatt system was installed in Twisp in Okanogan County PUD’s territory with 38 investors.

There won’t be any more community solar under the current state program though, Lamiman said, unless the Legislature modifies and extends it.  Set to expire in 2020, that leaves only six years for investors to recover their costs and make a profit. The state program pays $1.08 per kilowatt hour, which is why Lamiman pushed hard to make a self-imposed deadline of July 1 for the Leavenworth system to be generating electricity. You’ve got to make hay – or kilowatts, that is – while the sun shines.

It’s only been in the last couple of years that solar has really taken off in the state, Lamiman noted. It’s been mostly smaller companies doing local work, but there’s a concern that that may change, with big corporations coming into Washington State and leasing solar systems to homeowners. While an increase in solar generation is beneficial, the change could hurt local installers and manufacturers, she said. She expects the Legislature to debate how to protect homeowners and businesses, and to discuss changes to the Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Program, in 2015.

“Solar has passed the stage of early adopters,” she said. “The price has dropped dramatically for modules and inverters so people’s interest can still be piqued by solar. People want it for a lot of reasons. There’s a large desire to participate in that future.”

Related
Volunteers install Leavenworth’s first community solar project (Wenatchee World)

Making it pay while the sun shines (Chelan PUD “Connected” blog)

Chelan County PUD SNAP program (PUD website)

April brings Earth Day celebrations

Posted in Climate, Energy conservation, Environment, Recycling, Renewable energy, Sustainability, Water conservation on April 4th, 2014 by Susan – Comments Off

PrintApril is the month for celebrating the earth and our continued stewardship of its resources. Earth Day fairs in Chelan and Leavenworth offer opportunities for everyone, while Entiat’s celebration focuses on its schoolchildren.

Here’s a rundown of the festivities:

Saturday, April 19, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Riverwalk Park, Chelan: Chelan is celebrating its 25th anniversary of hosting its Earth Day Fair. Find displays about composting, green building, recycling, renewable energy, land conservation, energy conservation, electric vehicles and emergency preparedness. There’s plenty to do and see, including a garden center, flea market, arts and crafts for kids, food booths, music and entertainment. The event is sponsored by the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, KOZI Radio and Chelan County PUD.

Poster of Leavenworth Earth Day FairSunday, April 27, noon to 4 p.m., Lions Club Park, Leavenworth: The Wenatchee River Institute is sponsoring Leavenworth’s sixth annual Earth Day Fair.  The fair will feature live music, prepared food, a Farmers Market Showcase, health information, displays, hands-on activities and activities for the whole family. Sponsors are Stevens Pass, KOHO Radio, Link Transit and Chelan County PUD. If it rains, the fair will take place at Osborn Elementary School, 225 Central Avenue, Leavenworth. Phone (509) 548-6881 for more fair information.

On Tuesday, April 15,  Entiat Elementary School students will be treated to displays and activities focusing on conservation and sustainability. The 11th annual event is sponsored by the Entiat Valley Community Services group. Chelan PUD will be among the presenters. Contact May Segle for information at (509) 784-7117 or evcsfb@nwi.net.

 

Help your air conditioner do a better job

Posted in Appliances, Climate, Energy conservation, Heating and cooling on July 18th, 2013 by Susan – Comments Off
Photo of Window air conditioner insulated and sealed

Air sealing around your air conditioner and window will improve comfort and save money.

Do you have a 5-inch hole in your wall? If you’re running an improperly installed window air conditioner, you could be wasting an equivalent amount of energy.

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory studied window air conditioners to analyze how they perform and how they could be improved. The study shows that window unit installations resulted in significant air leakage, equivalent to having a 5-inch hole in the exterior wall. All summer long, hot outdoor air flows into the home, making the air conditioner run longer and use more energy. And it compromises the comfort of the occupants.

The U.S. Department of Energy has released a guide to help homeowners: Five Easy Steps to Limit Window A/C Infiltration. The materials are inexpensive and the job is simple. It involves cutting and installing rigid foam panels to fill the spaces beside the air conditioner, using backer rod (not the foam strips supplied by the manufacturer) to seal between sashes, and taping the foam panels to prevent air leaks around joints.

The guide also shows how to install a diverter between the cool air supply and room air return. This reduces short-circuiting of air from the supply to the return and maximizes the amount of cool air that goes into the room, saving energy and money.

The end result: cooling-season savings of up to 7 percent.

Remember that periodic cleaning of intake and exhaust grills on both the indoor and outdoor portion of the unit can help maintain efficient performance. When summer ends, remove your unit from the window or seal it up completely on the inside; otherwise, air will leak through the unit itself.

Get your green going at Alcoa fair

Posted in Climate, Energy conservation, Environment, Sustainability on June 27th, 2013 by Susan – Comments Off

Alcoa Green Fair iconLocal agencies that promote sustainability and work to protect the environment will gather at Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works for a Green Fair on Wednesday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Alcoa is hosting the event in conjunction with the Make an Impact program of The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.  The Center is partnering with member companies Alcoa, Entergy Corporation and Bank of America on the Make an Impact program, which focuses on raising awareness and mobilizing action on climate change in communities throughout the U.S.

Chelan PUD Conservation staff will share information about reducing energy use and saving money on electric bills by weatherizing homes and choosing energy-efficient products. Other agencies attending are Cascade Natural Gas, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, Chelan-Douglas Community Action, City of Wenatchee, Community Farm Connection, EAT farm-to-school food program, Home Depot (green products), Link Transit, the Washington State Native Plant Society, Wenatchee River Institute and Wenatchee Valley College.

The event is free and open to the public and will include games and giveaways.

Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works is located on the Malaga-Alcoa Highway, about nine miles south of Wenatchee.

Protect your home against wildfire

Posted in Climate, Environment on June 25th, 2013 by Susan – Comments Off

Graphic of fire near homesRemember that blanket of choking smoke and all those fires that threatened homes and property last September? Wildfire is a familiar neighbor to residents of North Central Washington, which should prompt us to prepare for the inevitable fires of the future.

A seminar Thursday, July 25 is designed to do just that. Experts in fire and plant management will teach participants how to design a fire-wise landscape by controlling vegetation and using proper building materials. Instruction includes designing a plan to define or create defensible space around homes and property.

Speakers are Mike Burnett, chief of Chelan County Fire District 1; Paula Dinius, WSU Extension horticulturist; Mike Rickel, Cascadia Conservation District; and Dale Whaley, Integrated Pest Management specialist for WSU Extension.

The seminar will be held at the WSU Tree Fruit Research Center, 1100 N. Western Ave., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an hour-long break for lunch. The seminar is sponsored by Chelan County PUD as part of an educational series benefitting PUD parks’ employees and the public. Pre-registration is required and there is a $10 fee. Use this form or call (509) 667-6540.