Last year was a banner year for solar energy installations in Washington State. There are currently 604 megawatts (MW) of installed solar energy capacity across the Evergreen State, and nearly 50% was installed in 2022! The most significant increases were in the residential and utility-scale solar energy markets, so many households and utility customers are benefiting from using renewable energy.
Let’s explore why solar energy has become so popular throughout Washington, what types of solar projects are most common, and what the government is doing to encourage renewable energy growth across the state.
What is the largest solar project in Washington State?
The newly constructed Lund Hill solar farm in Klickitat County has 194 MW of installed solar capacity and was developed by Avangrid on approximately 1,800 acres of land leased from private landowners and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The project required an investment of over $100 million, which will help benefit the Washington economy.
All of the solar electricity from Lund Hill supplies Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and compliments Green Direct. This innovative renewable energy program for commercial and governmental organizations uses local dedicated renewable energy projects, including solar and wind farms. For example, the Washington state government is receiving green energy, which helps reduce its carbon emissions.
Why was there such a big surge in renewable energy use in Washington?
Numerous factors are driving solar installations, including low solar equipment prices, rising electricity rates, and concern about the environment. The cost to install a solar panel system has fallen by more than 50% over the last decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That means that a home solar energy system is affordable to more homeowners than ever before. Also, solar panels are more efficient than ever, with most solar panels ranging from 15% to 23% efficient, which greatly surpasses the efficiency of the solar modules on the market just a dozen years ago.
Washington State and Governor Inslee have also been taking several measures to transition to renewable energy sources and promote energy efficiency.
Washington State has set a target of reaching 100% clean energy by 2045. The Washington RPS mandates utilities, such as Avista, Pacific Power, Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, and Tacoma Power, to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy sources. It required utilities to achieve 15% renewable energy by 2020, with incremental increases leading up to 100% by 2045. The RPS was developed to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, increase energy security, slow climate change, and promote a sustainable economy in Washington.
Washington State is known for its abundant hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower accounts for a significant portion of the state’s electricity production and serves as a renewable energy source. Washington has the seventh largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.
Washington State has favorable conditions for wind power generation, particularly in areas such as the Columbia River Gorge. The state has been actively developing utility-scale wind farms and encouraging private investment in wind energy projects.
Some of the notable wind farms in Washington State include:
- Wild Horse Wind Facility: Located near Ellensburg in Kittitas County, this wind farm has a capacity of over 250 megawatts (MW).
- Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility: Situated in Columbia County, this wind farm has a capacity of around 157 MW.
- Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project: Located in Kittitas County, it has a capacity of approximately 100 MW.
- Stateline Wind Project: This wind farm straddles the border between Washington State and Oregon and has a capacity of around 300 MW.
- Palouse Wind Project: Located in Whitman County, it has a capacity of approximately 105 MW.
Washington has been promoting solar energy through various incentives, including net metering, a solar sales tax exemption, and federal solar tax credits. Net metering programs allow homeowners to sell surplus solar electricity to power companies and to receive solar credits on their energy bills. The solar sales tax exemption means that homeowners do not need to pay sales tax when purchasing a PV system. In recent years, the cost of solar panels has decreased significantly, leading to an increase in residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar installations.
Want to learn more about installing solar panels on your home? The Smart Solar Energy team can estimate your electricity bill savings and conduct a free solar energy audit of your property!
Energy Efficiency Programs
Washingtonians spend $20 billion on energy each year. Washington State has implemented energy efficiency programs to reduce overall energy consumption. These programs include incentives for energy-efficient appliances, building codes, and initiatives to improve energy efficiency in public buildings. Although energy efficiency initiatives do not boost renewable energy production, they can help reduce the demand for energy overall, which is also beneficial for the environment.
What segments of the solar market are growing the fastest in Washington State?
The solar energy market can be broadly categorized into the following segments, with the largest growth in residential and utility-scale solar power installations.
Residential Solar in Washington
This segment refers to solar energy systems installed on individual residential properties. Homeowners or landlords install solar panels on their rooftops or in their yards to generate electricity for their own use. Residential solar systems are typically smaller in scale compared to other segments and often benefit from various incentives such as net metering or solar tax credits.
One of the benefits of rooftop solar systems is that they make efficient use of land, while helping households dramatically reduce home electricity bills. The Federal Solar Tax Credits increased to 30% in 2022, so eligible homeowners can get an even larger tax credit on their federal income taxes with the IRS.
Smart Solar Energy is a leading solar panel installer serving Washington. Contact us today to learn how much you can save on your electricity bills by going solar.
Commercial Solar Power
Despite large growth in home and utility-scale solar projects, the commercial solar market in Washington didn’t increase significantly last year. These systems are installed on non-residential buildings such as offices, warehouses, shopping malls, and factories. These systems generate electricity to meet the energy needs of commercial entities.
Commercial solar installations tend to be larger in scale than residential systems and can provide substantial energy savings for businesses. IKEA, Walmart, and FedEx have all installed solar capacity in Washington. IKEA’s rooftop solar project in Renton, Washington, is one of the largest commercial solar installations in the state.
Utility-Scale Solar Farms
This refers to large-scale solar power plants that generate electricity for the power grid, such as Lund Hill. These solar farms can cover vast areas of land and typically consist of numerous solar panels or solar concentrators. Utility-scale solar projects are developed and operated by energy companies or independent power producers, and the electricity generated is supplied to the grid for widespread distribution.
Community Solar Projects
Community solar farms allow multiple individuals or businesses to join a solar installation and benefit from solar power. Participants in community solar programs may not have the ability to install solar panels on their own properties but can still support renewable energy and receive credits or discounts on their electricity bills.
Community solar can be implemented on a smaller scale, serving a local community, or on a larger scale involving multiple participants and larger solar installations. Although a community solar farm membership isn’t ideal for many homeowners, they are most beneficial for homeowners with shaded properties, apartment dwellers, and renters that cannot install rooftop solar systems.
Currently, there are not many community solar farms in Washington, but this may change. Last year, the Washington State Legislature passed 2SHB 1814, and Governor Inslee signed the community solar legislation into law. It aims to expand access to renewable energy in Washington by making community solar more affordable for low-income Washington households.
Is it better to install solar panels or a wind turbine in Washington?
Many Washingtonians want to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, dramatically reduce their power bills, and benefit the environment. But, which is better: solar panels or a wind turbine?
In most cases, a home solar system is a better idea than a wind turbine, but it does depend a bit on your property. For example, if your roof is completely shaded, it probably isn’t ideal for solar panels, but a home wind turbine might be an appealing option if the property has a good wind resource and sufficient land.
Home wind turbines in Washington
Wind turbines are an excellent way to generate green energy, but most wind power comes from utility-scale wind farms that produce electricity for hundreds or even thousands of Washington homes and businesses. Unfortunately, wind turbines usually require at least an acre of space, so most urban and suburban properties in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Vancouver, and Bellevue aren’t eligible.
Unlike solar panels, wind turbines require periodic maintenance and can be unsafe without it. In addition, wind turbines sometimes kill bats and birds, especially when sited in migration corridors. However, most wind turbines are readily recyclable except for the turbine blades.
Also, the payback period and power output from a residential wind turbine vary greatly by location. If a site doesn’t have a sufficient wind energy resource, it isn’t cost-effective to install a wind turbine because it will not pay for itself with energy bill savings. By contrast, properties across Washington have sufficient solar resources for solar panels, although shading is sometimes an issue.
Residential solar systems in Washington
Although a well-maintained wind turbine can generate renewable energy for twenty years, many solar PV systems produce clean energy for thirty or more years. Another important factor to consider is warranties. Most solar panel, battery, and inverter manufacturers offer warranties on their solar equipment, but they vary by manufacturer. Smart Solar Energy offers a 25-year industry-leading labor and service warranty to protect your clean energy investment.
The Future of Solar Energy in Washington State
Solar power has a bright future in Washington due to favorable economic factors, the solar tax credits, supportive state policies, and concern about climate change. For example, electricity rates increased across much of Washington last year, which can decrease the payback time for a home solar system. There are also many solar loan programs that help homeowners pay for the upfront cost of buying solar panels. As concern grows about the climate crises, more and more Washingtonians are switching to clean energy sources, such as solar power.
Want to learn more about how much you can save by installing solar panels? Request a free quote today from the Smart Solar Energy team!