Despite abundant sunshine in eastern Washington, few businesses are adopting solar energy projects, though the interest is there, says an electric cooperative –representative.
“Going to solar energy in Washington is doable,” said Bruce Edzel of the Benton Rural Electric Association in Prosser. But because incentives in Washington do not match enticements in other states like California and Oregon, there has been little activity in the area of solar energy by private industry, he noted. Edzel teaches class offered through Benton REA to educate businesses and homeowners about going off the electricity grid with technology like solar and wind. The class helps participants determine the payback of such projects and illuminates the available state and federal incentives.
“The interest is there, but right now it’s happening because of a personal preference,” Edzel said, adding that he knows of only one solar and one wind energy project recently installed.
Susan Gillin, customer service representative for Chelan County Public Utility District, said that most fruit warehouses and packing plants have already taken advantage of utility company programs that provide incentives to reduce electricity costs. Changing to more energy-efficient lighting and installing fast-closing doors in refrigerated rooms are examples of steps that warehouses have taken to reduce energy use.
Renewable hydropower, the foundation of Washington’s energy sources, produces –relatively inexpensive electricity compared with other regions like California, she added.
“What it boils down to is cost,” Gillin said. The state may move toward encouraging more solar energy in the future, she said, but for now, it’s a matter of economics for most business owners.
Joy Anderson, winemaker at Snoqualmie Vineyards, one of Washington State’s more environmentally conscious wineries, said they are considering using a solar-powered pump for aerating the winery’s wastewater. “But that’s the only place that we’ve –considered using solar energy.”
Using solar energy has become one of the latest trends in California, and even Oregon wineries are beginning to go solar. She’s also aware of a winery in New York using solar energy to heat its water.
“It’s possible and plausible to use solar energy in a winery,” she said. “But it’s not –happening in Washington.
“We are spoiled with great water resources, and, thus far, we haven’t been forced to move in that direction. But we will continue to look at solar, both from an economical and efficiency standpoint.”
Anderson envisions the day when –agriculture will be forced to look to alternative power sources. The state does not have unlimited water supplies, she said, noting that at some point in the future solar energy will become economical in Washington.
“I suspect that those who are using solar are doing it on a personal philosophy level and not an economical one,” Anderson concluded.
Although sustainability was the primary driver of design and layout of the newly opened Waters Winery in Walla Walla, it is not using solar energy but instead relies on skylights and glass doors to reduce power needs for artificial lighting. The winery also used recycled materials and insulated –concrete walls in its efforts to construct a sustainable building.
Owner of Waters Winery, Jason Huntley, said that during the planning process, his approach was to “not use electricity as opposed to using an alternative source of energy.” But the facility is built in a way that solar panels could easily be adapted and added in the future, he said, noting that he would likely look at solar energy in the future.
Alana Nelson, co-owner of Fire Mountain Solar LLC in Mt. Vernon, Washington, agreed that Washington is far behind other states when it comes to financial incentives to adopt solar power. The recent production credit and exemption from sales tax now provided for Washingtonians is a start, she said.
“What we’ve got in place now has made a huge difference in pushing over people that were on the fence,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of solar projects in Washington. But it will need more of a grassroots effort to bring it to the next level.”
She believes it will take commitment from state government to develop more renewable energy incentives before industry jumps on the solar bandwagon. “It’s going to take industry (like the wine industry) to talk to their legislators to say ‘we want to do this’ before anything changes,” Nelson added.