This summer, Western Solar installed solar energy systems at five low-income organizations in Whatcom and Skagit County. Through grant money and donated labor, the organizations paid nothing for top-of-the-line solar systems.   

The projects were made possible by Puget Sound Energy’s Green Power Community Support Grantfunded through their Green Power Program. The opt-in program allows Puget Sound Energy (PSE) customers to support clean energy initiatives through a small monthly donation on top of their electric bill.  

This year, the grant focused on low-income communities. Seeing an opportunity to expand their own philanthropic efforts, Western Solar contacted five low-income organizations in Skagit and Whatcom County and asked them to apply for PSE’s grant in conjunction with Western Solar. While each agency had to seek out competitive bids, they all ultimately went with Western Solar, who donated part of the cost of labor to keep their rate low 

“It’s part of our Western Solar initiative,” explains Markus Virta, director of business development. “Every year, we try to identify a local nonprofit that has a need for solar energy, and we rally support around that nonprofit to donate solar to them.” 

In the past, Western Solar has donated systems to the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Bellingham Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, and Interfaith Coalition. This year is special because, thanks to PSE’s grant, they were able to provide solar to five organizations instead of one.  

The five organizations include the Lummi Housing Authority, Lydia Place, Anacortes Housing Authority, Kulshan Community Land Trust, and Opportunity Council.  

To ensure each agency received the highest quality system possible, Western Solar installed Panasonic 330-watt AC modules, which come with a 25-year warranty. The warranty ensures that, in 25 years’ time, the panels must still produce roughly 90% of their ranked capacityAll replacement parts, as well as the cost of labor, are included in the warranty. 

“There really is no ownership or maintenance or operational cost for these systems for these organizations,” Virta says.  

The upkeep-free system is especially important, as it allows these organizations to permanently reallocate their energy costs to other areas of their budget.   

“For nonprofits, it’s really difficult to find grant funding that pays for overhead costs like electric bills…that’s something they’re constantly having to reach out to their grassroots and membership base to try to cover,” Virta says. “Especially with COVID right now, everyone’s stretched thin.” 

For a glimpse into the long-term benefits of this year’s initiative, here’s a breakdown of each agency’s new solar system and the estimated savings they’ll see over the warranty’s 25-year lifespan:  

  • Lummi Housing Authority 31.68 kW capacity; 96 panels; $131,042 in savings 
  • Lydia Place 15.84 kW capacity; 48 panels; $71,039 in savings  
  • Anacortes Housing Authority 15.84 kW capacity; 48 panels; $68,598 in savings  
  • Kulshan Community Land Trust 31.02 kW capacity; 94 panels; $117,955 in savings  
  • Opportunity Council 14.85 kW capacity; 45 panels; $64,751 in savings  

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