Frequently Asked Questions



Is Oregon sunny enough for solar?

Yes. Even Portland and the rainy Willamette Valley receive as much sunshine annually as the average U.S. city. In fact, solar is Oregon's most abundant renewable resource. Today, more than 17,000 Oregon households use solar energy systems to generate electricity or heat water.


Is my home right for solar?

Solar works best on south-facing roofs, though east- or west-oriented roofs may be suitable as well. There should be little or no shading from trees, buildings, chimneys or roof gables on or adjacent to your home. Remember, locations with no shading in the winter may be shaded by spring and summer foliage.


If your roof is deteriorated, you may need to re-roof your home before installing solar.  Another consideration for installing solar is the condition of wiring in your home; in some instances, an electrical upgrade may be needed if your home has older wiring. Your contractor will help you assess these issues.


Can I put solar panels on my garage?

Yes, if your garage has good solar access and the roof is in good condition, you can install solar panels on your garage.  There may be additional cost if additional electrical work needs to be done (e.g. trenching).


How does solar electricity work?

A solar electric system - using photovoltaic panels (PV) - generates electricity that can be used throughout your home to power the electric appliances and other devices, which reduces the amount of electricity you need to purchase from your power company. On sunny days you may not have a use for all the electricity you are generating and any excess flows out to the electric grid where it is available to other electric customers. When your system generates more electricity than you use, you receive a credit from your utility. This credit is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).

What are watts, kilowatts, and kilowatt-hours?

The size of a solar electric system is often described in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). One kW = 1,000 W. Watts are a unit of power, just like the horsepower of an engine. They express the maximum possible output of energy the system can produce at any point in time. When sunlight strikes solar electric panels, they produce electricity that is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). Kilowatt hours are the units of energy you buy from your utility and use in your home to run your appliances, lighting and electronics.


In Oregon, a good rule of thumb is that 1,000 watts of solar electric panels require about 100 square-feet of space and will typically produce 1,000-1,300 kWh of electricity each year. If you double or triple the size of the system, you will double or triple the amount of electricity it produces.


What is net metering?

When you install solar panels, your electric meter will be replaced. Your new meter will measure both the electricity you are purchasing from your utility and the electricity you are sending to the grid. The utility tracks both of these when it reads your meter, and you are charged only for your "net" energy use, the electricity you purchased minus what you sold. In the summer, you may run a credit for several months. You can draw on that credit in the rainy months. The energy credit is exchanged on a kWh basis. Storing your excess energy on the grid is better than the best batteries, because it doesn't take up space or need to be replaced. This system of "net metering" is required of utilities under Oregon law (ORS 757.300).


What if I produce more energy than I need?

Net excess generation is carried over to the customer's next bill as a kilowatt-hour credit for a 12-month period. Unless a utility and a customer otherwise agree, the annual billing cycle will conclude at the end of the March billing cycle of each year. Any excess generation credits remaining at the end of a 12-month period will be credited to customers enrolled in Oregon's low-income assistance programs. 


If I have solar panels, will I have electricity when the power goes out? 

When the power goes out, your solar panels will automatically shut down.  The reason is very simple - if someone is working on the lines to bring the electricity back on in the neighborhood, the energy you are producing could harm the worker. 


What if I have a back-up battery for my system?

This program only applies to grid-tied systems; that is, that excess energy is sent back out to the electric lines and is available for others to use in their homes.  This provides greater community benefit for solar installations.  In addition, batteries are made of highly toxic materials and their disposal creates environmental problems. 


How much does solar electricity (PV) cost?

For a solar electric system, the cost depends on the size of the system and the ease of installation. Before incentives and tax credits, typical costs range from $8,500-$10,000 for each kilowatt (kW) of capacity. With bulk purchasing, costs will be about 30% lower. Incentives and tax credits can cover up to 80% of the remaining cost. And low-interest rate financing is available with GreenStreet Lending through Umpqua Bank.


What products are available?

Check back soon. This information will be made available after a contractor is chosen through a competitive process.


Can I participate in Solarize Southwest if I'm not a homeowner?

In order to make the decision to purchase and install solar panels, you need to have financial control over the home you live in.  However, you may inform your landlord about the opportunity provided by Solarize Southwest.  Additionally, the state intends to offer a pilot program called the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) that may be more attractive for owners with rental properties.  Please see the question below.


Everyone - homeowners or renters - can save energy and improve the comfort of their homes through weatherization.  Solarize Southwest is also providing information to Southwest Portland neighbors about weatherization programs available to them.


Can I install solar panels on my rental property?

If you own a single-family home as a rental property, you can install solar panels on your rental house. The incentives for installing solar panels on a residential rental are a bit different from those for a homeowner, but still very attractive. The Energy Trust of Oregon provides an up-front subsidy of $1 per Watt for Pacific Power customers for systems up to 30kW in size. There is a Federal commercial investment tax credit of 30% (IRS Form 3468) taken in the first year, and currently an Oregon tax credit of 50% of the cost of the system, taken over five years. Please note that the property must be used exclusively as a rental property. All of this adds up to a more than 80% discount from the original price.


What kinds of incentives and tax credits apply to solar installations?

Energy tax credits are available for residential taxpayers through the Oregon Department of Energy and the federal government, In addition, Energy Trust of Oregon offers a cash incentive on solar panels that is paid directly to the solar contractor, reducing your up front cost.   


Do I qualify for Energy Trust incentives?

In order to receive an Energy Trust solar incentive, your home only needs to be grid-tied with electricity supply from Pacific Power or Portland General Electric. Your heating fuel does not matter for solar electric.


I pay very little in the way of taxes. Can I realize the tax credit benefits?

The state tax credit (usually $6000 total) is taken over 4 years, at $1500 per year. If you are unable to claim the full $1500 in any given year, don't worry -- you have four extra years (for a total of 8 years) in which to claim any unused credit. NOTE: you need to claim an average of $750 per year in tax credits to be able to take full advantage of the state credit.


What about Energy Trust incentives for weatherization?

Oregon customers heating their homes primarily with electricity or natural gas provided by Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, Cascade Natural Gas or NW Natural are eligible for the Home Energy Review.


If you are an Oregon customer of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power living in homes heated with oil, propane, kerosene, butane or wood you may be eligible for weatherization incentives through the Oregon Department of Energy's SHOW (State Home Oil Weatherization) program. SHOW-eligible homeowners can conduct their own energy audits and apply for cash rebates for installed weatherization and heating measures. Eligible SHOW homeowners can receive a maximum rebate of $500. We encourage you to go to the SHOW website to learn more.

What is the impact of the SOLARIZE PORTLAND projects on solar businesses who do not win the Solarize contracts?

The Portland metro area is seeing a significant increase in solar for both volume and non-volume installations. A total of 38 solar installations were completed on homes citywide in 2008. In 2009, that number increased to 123 (32% were Solarize installations). 2010 installs are likely to be triple that number. (source: Energy Trust of Oregon, 2010).



Updated: April 7, 2010