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Benton PUD moving forward with first local community solar project

The Benton PUD will break ground in April on a community solar project — the first of its kind in the Tri-City area.

It’s aimed at giving customers an easier and cheaper way to take advantage of solar power benefits, the public utility district said in a statement.

PUD commissioners on Tuesday gave their blessing, awarding the construction contact to A&R Solar in Seattle.

The company will build about 270 solar panels for PUD’s property at Highway 395 and West 10th Avenue in Kennewick. The power generated — the capacity is 75 kilowatts, enough annually to power about six average homes will be part of the PUD’s grid, which already largely is made up of sustainable, clean energy sources, officials said.

Customers who buy into the solar project will get a proportionate credit on their electricity bill, along with a state production incentive of $1.08 per kilowatt hour, the utility said.

Lori Sanders, president of the PUD board of commissioners, called the project “a positive addition to our community.”

“Utilities are finding that a growing number of their customers are interested in investing in solar for the environmental attributes and the financial incentives currently being offered. Our community solar project will provide Benton PUD customers another solar option for those who may not own property or have appropriate location for solar installation,” Sanders said in a statement. She wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s meeting because of a conflict.

The $375,000 project will be paid for by the participating customers. Utility customers who don’t participate won’t be charged for the project.

The cost to buy in is $250 per unit, with the cap at 40 units per customer. A total of 1,500 units will be available.

Because the number is limited, the utility plans a drawing May 1 to select customers. Residential and commercial customers are eligible.

Sign-ups for the drawing start at 7 a.m. today.

Those who are chosen can expect to see their outlay recouped in three or four years, officials said.

The state production incentive lasts through June 2020; the proportionate credit lasts for the life of the project.

On Tuesday, commissioners hailed the project as the right move.

The PUD is “a forward thinking utility,” said Commissioner Jeff Hall, adding that the PUD wanted to take advantage of the state production incentive while it’s available.

Commissioner Barry Bush added that the project is, “a culmination of a lot of hard work from staff. We’re excited about leading in this area.”

The community solar project is part of the PUD’s Solar Connections, meant to help customers in making decisions about solar power. For more information, go to www.tinyurl.com/solarconnections.

The community solar project is expected to go live in June. PUD officials said they hope to expand the program in the future.

To sign up for the drawing, go to the Solar Connections page. Those without internet access may call 509-582-1234 for help.

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