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Seattle building solar picnic shelters with your donations

On the shortest, darkest days of the year, Seattle's electric utility is trying to convince its customers to invest in solar power. The city-owned utility is hoping people will buy shares in what it calls a community solar project.

Seattle City Light recently sent out a mailer, inviting customers to buy shares in a solar project under construction on Beacon Hill. The city is building three large picnic shelter at Jefferson Park featuring roofs made of solar panels.

City Light's Andrew Gibb says the project consists of 500 solar units at a cost of $600 each, with a limit of two units.

Why would anybody invest in solar that doesn't directly power their own home?

"People who might not have the upfront capital to put in their own solar panels on their own homes could buy into our system at a smaller level," said Gibb. He compares it to renting a plot in a community garden.

"It's kind of like a pea patch," said Gibb. "You don't have to spend $15,000-$20,000 to put in your own solar panels."

Gibb says the power generated by the shelters with the solar panels will go into the electricity grid and utility customers who invest in the project will get a rebate.

"Once a year, we'll tally up how much energy is produced by the system and then we'll divide that by the number of units that we've established and each person who's bought one or two shares will get a certain amount of money based on the actual production of the system," explained Gibb.

Participants also get a payment from the state's Renewable Energy Production Incentive.

Gibb said the expectation is that over the course of the nine-year project, the investors will get back 80-percent, or more, of their investment. "So it's not going to be a big money-maker for someone, but it is going to demonstrate and support the production and construction of solar in Seattle," he said.

The shelters should be ready by the first day of spring.

The idea is to demonstrate that solar power is viable in the Seattle area and that community solar power generation could be part of a long-term renewable energy solution.

City Light estimates the three shelters will generate enough electricity to power three homes for a year or brew about 146,000 pots of coffee.

About the Author

Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.

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