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RNP Press Release
June 23, 2008

Pacific Power's PUC Filing Puts the Breaks on Oregon's Robust Solar Energy Market

Public Interest And Industry Groups Intervene At The PUC

Portland, OR — Responding to Pacific Power’s actions that have threatened the solar industry in Oregon, a large group of public interest organizations, cities and solar energy companies are intervening before the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) in hopes of allowing the current boom in solar electric development to continue.

By raising questions about a common financing method that allows governments and non-profits to purchase solar electricity at affordable rates, Pacific Power’s PUC filing has effectively frozen Oregon’s progress on solar installations. In addition, Pacific Power is questioning a long-established policy allowing its customers to sell excess power they generate from their solar electric systems back to the utility as a credit against their energy bill.
 
Portland General Electric does not share Pacific Power’s concerns. The Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA), Renewable Northwest Project, the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, Environment Oregon, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Oregon Cities have all submitted petitions to intervene in the PUC docket (DR 40). Several solar companies have filed to intervene, including Gerding Edlen Sustainable Solutions, BacGen Solar Group and SunEnergy Power Corporation. Additional interveners include Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon Department of Transportation and the Energy Trust of Oregon.
 
“With the federal solar tax credits expiring at the end of the year, Pacific Power’s filing has created a major stumbling block for solar in Oregon at the worst possible time.” said Suzanne Leta Liou, senior policy advocate for Renewable Northwest Project. “Financing for dozens of solar projects across the state are now in peril, making it close to impossible for public entities and non-profit organizations to have on-site renewable energy generation.”
 
“Our nation is facing an energy crisis of monumental scope. Surmounting this crisis will require innovation, leadership and a willingness to embrace change by all,” said Joe Reinhart, executive director of OSEIA. “As consumers we have every right to expect Pacific Power to act as a responsible corporate citizen in embracing solutions and not impeding solutions.”
 
In the past year, Oregon’s residents, businesses, non-profits and cities have benefited from state and federal tax credits and financial assistance from the Energy Trust of Oregon, resulting in dozens of solar project proposals across the state. The vast majority of these projects use third party financing, where a company offers to pay for the up-front cost and then sells the solar- generated electricity to a building owner through a power purchase agreement. These third party arrangements allow for public and non- profit entities to utilize tax incentives that significantly reduce the cost of solar and would be unavailable otherwise.
 
“Pacific Power is raising questions about basic tools that make it possible for nonprofits, schools, and local governments to choose solar power, the ultimate form of energy independence,” said Jeremiah Baumann, program director for Environment Oregon.
 
According to publicly available documents, 32 proposed solar projects in Oregon utilize third party financing. The combined capacity of just 22 of the proposals is 13 Megawatts (MW) – more than twice the capacity of solar electric projects installed in Oregon to date. These projects are with cities (including Pendleton, Bend, Medford, Corvallis and Roseburg), counties, state agencies, universities, community colleges and special districts.
 
Pacific Power has created uncertainty in the market causing banks and other investors who finance solar projects in Oregon to withhold financing until this issue is resolved. With the federal investment tax credit for solar currently set to drop from 30 percent to 10 percent for businesses and expire completely for homeowners at the end of the year, there is a high probability that proposed solar projects will not get installed unless the PUC quickly issues a positive declaratory ruling on the matter. The PUC administrative judge assigned to the case has established an expedited schedule, with briefs due on June 30th and a ruling expected in the end of July.
 
“With rising fossil fuel prices and the threats from climate change, we should be using our energy to eliminate, not create, barriers to solar energy investments,” said Jason Eisdorfer, energy program director for the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon.
 
Oregon is experiencing a solar boom as increasing energy prices, concerns about global warming, and a new renewable energy law requiring the largest utilities to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy in their supply to 25% by 2025 spurs increased interest and investment in solar power. Oregon is home to four solar manufacturing companies and dozens of solar installers and businesses.
 
# # #
For more information contact:
Suzanne Leta Liou
Renewable Northwest Project
(503) 223-4544
 
Joe Reinhart
Oregon Solar Energy Industry Assoc.
(503) 236-0367
 
Jeremiah Baumann
Environment Oregon
(503) 231-1986 x310
 
Jason Eisdorfer
Citizens Utility Board of Oregon
(503) 227-1984
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