The recent, successful launch of a new solar energy project by the Benton Public Utility District generated so much interest, officials are hoping they can expand the program.
That is exactly what they should do if they can.
The Tri-Cities always has been known for its sunshine, so harnessing solar power and offering incentives to customers for investing in it makes sense.
While some people may balk at the use of tax money to make those incentives possible, the program is a reasonable way to offer another source of renewable energy in communities where the interest supports the project.
And the Tri-Cities appears to be one of those places.
Across the river, officials with the Franklin Public Utility District are setting up a similar solar project and customers can find out more at meetings to discuss the plan on Aug. 20 and Sept. 3.
If Franklin PUD officials get the same response as the Benton PUD, they will be turning customers away.
Benton PUD began operating its Ely Community Solar Project July 1, and those who invested in it should be seeing a savings on their monthly electric bill beginning this month.
Customers bought shares in the project, which helped build the solar panels lined up on the Benton PUD property. It cost $375,000, all paid by those who invested in it.
Now that it is operational, investors receive $1.08 per kilowatt-hour and a credit on their bill for the power produced, thanks to the state incentive program.
Benton PUD offered 1,500 units for sale at $250 each, and the demand was about four times more than the state allowed.
There were 429 customers wanting 5,840 units, but Benton PUD officials had to limit sales to 112 participants through a drawing. The limit was set up by a state cap of 75 kilowatts for the incentive program.
“When it was first offered, we had no way of gauging the response,” said Benton PUD spokeswoman Karen Miller. Now that Benton PUD officials know for certain there is such a high interest in the program, they would like to find a way to meet the demand, she said.
As for the Franklin PUD, commissioners recently agreed to allow staff to market a similar proposal to what Benton PUD offered. Their plans are to possibly use solar panels to build a car canopy at their downtown location, costing between $325,000 to $480,000. Customers would invest in the project, purchasing $200 blocks and also getting the $1.08 per kilowatt hour incentive offered by the state through June 2020.
This is a great new endeavor by the public utility districts, and we hope it can expand. The community demand appears to justify it.