Oregon’s Solar Landscape

Oregon has made significant strides in promoting solar energy, and has far outpaced Washington in total solar capacity installed. In 2012, Oregon ranked 16th in the country with approximately 6,000 solar PV installations comprising over 56 megawatts of distributed solar generation. This is a testament to the successful influence of Oregon’s strong solar policies and incentives.

Several major players collaborate to support solar market development in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Energy offers critical incentives for residents and businesses, and the Oregon Building Codes Division recently adopted a model state solar installation specialty code providing permitting standards for all Oregon jurisdictions. The City of Portland launched the Solarize Portland program that inspired Solarize campaigns across the nation. In collaboration with the Oregon Department of Energy, the Energy Trust of Oregon, Solar Oregon, and the City of Portland launched the “Solar Now!” campaign, delivering training and seed money to jumpstart solar markets across Oregon. Combined with the State’s progressive incentive, grant, and loan programs, these efforts have fueled a doubling of Oregon’s installed PV capacity between 2010 and 2012.

Despite this growth, Oregon has met less than 1% of its technical solar potential. Like Washington, Oregon sources much of its energy from abundant and inexpensive hydropower, and where this is true electricity rates are persistently low. As such, Oregon is projected to reach grid parity just ahead of Washington, in approximately 2021. However, actions taken now can help set the stage for simple, cost effective solar.

Action Areas

Permitting and Codes: Oregon has adopted a model statewide solar code that specifies a prescriptive permitting process. As with many codes and standards, there is an ongoing need for updates and training on how to effectively implement the code in local jurisdictions. Northwest Solar Communities team members may suggest updates to the code if needed – such as expanding it to cover a broader range of buildings and applications – and plan to develop toolkits and training for dissemination to individual jurisdictions.

In addition to the statewide solar code, the Oregon Building Codes Division developed an e-permit portal, available to all Oregon jurisdictions on a voluntary basis. Northwest Solar Communities hopes to encourage greater use of the portal or similar online system by jurisdictions and professionals.

Interconnection: In Oregon, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) establishes interconnection standards for Investor Owned Utilities, which serve approximately 74% of the state’s ratepayers. Oregon earned a “B” for interconnection policy in the Freeing the Grid 2010 report, with the recommendation to remove requirements for a redundant external disconnect switch and to expand the interconnection standards to all utilities, including Customer Owned Utilities.

Net metering: Oregon’s net metering policy received a grade “A”, reflecting recent efforts of project partners. However, the policy could be improved by increasing individual project size limits to allow customers to meet all of their on-site energy needs. In 2012, Solar Oregon completed a statewide survey of utility net metering, and subsequently developed a report highlighting best practices and areas for improvement, such as raising single system size cap in Customer Owned Utility areas, limiting fees for interconnection and making annualized net metering a requirement.

Solar Planning: State law in both Oregon and Washington prohibits HOAs from precluding the installation of solar PV, but allows them to issue aesthetic guidelines, which in effect can prohibit solar installations. The Northwest Solar Communities team will draw on model solar planning guides and work with legal experts to craft model language for HOAs and local jurisdictions to ensure solar-friendly planning practices.