Letters from the West

The Snake River Alliance has a solar deal for you!

The promotion looks like something Ron Popeil would use on television to sell a set of knives or a food dehydrator:

“Go solar in five easy steps!”

“Limited-time offer ends July 31!”

“Sign up today for your free solar assessment!”

So is this a fly-by-night pitch from an out-of-state installer looking to fleece a bunch of would-be green homeowners?

Actually, the Solarize The Valley campaign is exactly the opposite. First done in Portland, the campaign was put together in Idaho by the Snake River Alliance as a way to accelerate the growth of solar power here.

The Alliance, which promotes clean energy, put together a technical group that helped it write a contract proposal that would provide attractive prices, reasonable service and systems that work for Idaho businesses and homeowners. It hopes to get 50 solar power systems built this year producing about 250 kilowatts of electricity, enough to be more than symbolic but not enough to start causing Idaho Power and its regular customers unfair costs.

The Alliance put its proposal out to bids and five solar installers responded. They chose two, Altenergy and Site-Based Energy, two well-known local companies.

The Snake River Alliance now will go out and try to get customers for the two developers with free media (like this column), its Solarize the Valley website and a series of four workshops it will hold in Ada and Canyon counties over the next two months.

“Our local professional installers … will perform your site assessment, design a solar system that’s just right for you, help you arrange financing, and expertly install everything you need to enjoy the benefits of solar energy,” the Alliance says in its promotion.

Sounds good, Ron Popeil. What do I have to do?

Submit a form by July 31, get a solar assessment, sign a contract at the special rate then wait for the installation and prepare for lower electric bills!

It sounds too good to be true.

Idaho doesn’t offer the same kind of tax incentives other states do. And the fact is our power rates are pretty low if you don’t use much electricity. But if you use a lot of power, or if you are a business that can write off much of your initial investment, this might be something you should check out. And some people just see solar as a good thing.

“We’ve said all along this isn’t the only way to put solar on your houses,” said Ken Miller, the Snake River Alliance’s clean energy director.

Not every house fits the solar profile, because it has too many trees or its roof isn’t right. And there are the people who live in apartments or condos who can’t participate.

Idaho Power has been working on its own alternative for people who want to invest in solar power but aren’t right for an individual rooftop solar system. The company calls it community solar and held a meeting last year to explore the idea that customers could buy into a smaller Idaho Power-built solar plant.

It told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on Wednesday that it’s looking at community solar, but made no commitments. On Tuesday, the council toured the Boise City Solar Project on Cloverdale Road. It’s Idaho’s first big solar farm, expected to begin producing power later this month.

The path to solar power in Idaho has been long and winding.

But despite occasional obstacles, the state appears to be moving toward the sun as a major future energy source. Hydropower has long kept the lights on in homes and businesses, the factories running and the irrigation water pumping, but solar power is gaining popularity and efficiency.

Idaho has a power surplus at the moment, so the need to build more big plants has limited the kilowatts generated so far. But solar is a power for the people, and the utilities, that should work for us long into the future.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker