This morning, a group of solar power fans gathered in Ballard to talk about solar power in Washington. It may seem like our less-than-sunny side of the state is not a great candidate for a solar-power revolution, but actually, says Environment Washington in a newly released report, "the Puget Sound region gets as much sunshine as Germany, which is the world's leader in solar energy." And obviously, on the other side of the mountains, there's even more potential.
At this little presser in the offices of Sunergy Systems, a small solar-panel design/install company, activists and Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien crowed about the possibilities of solar power. Environment Washington is calling on Governor Inslee to set a goal: 150,000 solar roofs in Washington by 2020. They point out that solar power is a "triple play"—it produces energy, it cuts carbon emissions, and it's a boost to the local economy. The owner of Sunergy, Howard Lamb, spoke of the growth of the solar industry and said he's looking to hire a few new workers soon to keep up with demand. O'Brien pointed out that "natural gas and oil don't come out of Seattle; we don't build automobiles." Investing in sustainable power like wind and solar could give us a larger local energy economy, and it also "gives customers empowerment over their energy use," he said. They made a strong case.
But Olympia hasn't been cooperating. As with bills about nearly everything you could ever care about, bills relating to solar power and renewable energy haven't gotten anywhere this year. A sales-tax exemption for solar panels (and other renewable energy sources), which small business owner Lamb loves, is set to expire in June, and attempts to renew it didn't get out of the house or into the budget. (Representative Reuven Carlyle tells The Stranger the exemption didn't make it because their analysis showed that "a majority of the benefits are provided to big international energy firms," and they're desperately trying to close inefficient tax loopholes to save money.) A house bill on sustainable-energy incentives, HB 1301, got into the senate and died in committee (just like so many other important, progressive bills).
Environment Washington says that even though none of the solar-friendly legislation they followed and promoted this year passed, they're "hopeful" that Inslee setting a public goal will "propel solar legislation forward in the legislature."
Here in Seattle, we can make our own headway on renewable energy while the state sleeps: As the discussion moved toward how to get more houses to install solar panels, someone pointed out that it was relatively easy to make new buildings solar-ready, so that the basic framework for receiving energy from rooftop solar panels was built into the wiring, if the building owner wanted to install them later. All you'd have to do would be to amend building codes to make that mandatory in new construction.