Salem is a prime location for solar power. Too much heat decreases the efficiency of solar panels, so our cool weather helps offset the amount lost through cloudy conditions. The rays that reach the Willamette Valley are in fact comparable to the amount of sunlight that warms Southern France.

The past few weeks have witnessed a significant increase in the number of residents taking advantage of this renewable energy source. Thanks to efforts by the local co-op Solarize Salem launched August 2nd, forty more households acquired photovoltaic panels.

“Last year, only ten homes installed solar systems. We quadrupled that in two weeks,” said Ross Swartzendruber, Solarize Salem’s project coordinator. He said pricing and outreach were the driving forces behind the dramatic rise in solar watts produced in the area.

Until October 1st or until the goal of one-hundred homes joining Solarize Salem is achieved, the organization will continue to educate the community and market solar electricity. If the program is successful, each of the two contractors working with Solarize Salem (SolarCity and RS Energy) will donate 3 kilowatts to a school in the area.

Cumulatively, the forty homes got 140 kilowatts of solar for a price of $750,000. This may seem like a lot, but between federal and state energy tax credits and other incentives, the cost is greatly reduced. “Most of the money comes back to the homeowners,” said Swartzendruber, who doesn’t currently have solar in his home, but is trying to find a way, possibly through a ground mount (some homes have shading that prevents the proper amount of sunlight from reaching the solar panels).

Thirteen other households in Marion County signed up for solar power in the past few months, motivated by the solar installation company SunWize, which challenged locals to exceed 75 kilowatts of solar, promising to donate $7,500 to Marion County Food Share if they won the “Salem Solar Challenge.”

Salemites came away victorious. According SunWize, having that much more clean energy in town translates into 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide not being released into the environment every year, the amount of CO2 an 8-acre forest would absorb. SunWize will be at the Oregon State Fair.

Solarize Salem will be hosting several events in the next few days, culminating in the installation parties in September:

August 26, 7pm.

“Nuts and Bolts”

David Richards of RS Energy will be speaking about what it takes to install a solar contractor. 633 7th Street NW.

August 29, 4pm.

Solar Party

Educational meeting in a relaxed environment. No minors. 335 Grove St NE

August 31, 6pm.

September 2, 6:30pm.

Solar Film Series – “The Sustainable City”

Northern Lights Theatre Pub

Intro to Solar workshop: solar energy’s benefits for the grid in the future.

Christopher Dymond, Solarize Salem volunteer

Salem Public Library Loucks Auditorium 585 Liberty St NE

For more information, visit solarizesalem.org.