By Kim Herman
Washington State Housing Finance Commission
On top of the three-story, rectangular Holiday Apartments in Seattle may be the nation’s first community solar project to be utilized by affordable multifamily housing. What Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) Sustainability Director Joel Sisolak knows for sure is that it’s a first for Washington State—even though they didn’t plan it that way. “Without finding any instructive examples, we had to just sally forth,” Joel laughs.
The 26-kilowatt voltaic system on the Holiday’s roof is essentially crowdfunded. Like other community solar projects, it works by having a utility’s customers pitch in to help with the upfront costs of building the solar energy system. Community ratepayers are invited to purchase “solar units” via their electric bills.
In the case of the Holiday Apartments, this ranged from $150 to $18,000. At the end of each year from 2014 to 2020 (the solar installation went live just before Thanksgiving 2014), these investors get credits back on their bills, based on the amount of energy generated by the system. CHH anticipates that participants in the project will recoup their investment—and then some.
In 2020, the Holiday Apartments will “own” all 25,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year produced by the solar array. That production will basically zero out the house meter, which includes a laundry room and the common spaces (although it’s not enough to provide electricity to the Holiday Apartments’ 30 units). The energy savings will “help us provide subsidized housing,” Joel says. “The main beneficiary of the project is our operating costs—and that ultimately benefits everyone we house.”