Solarize Portland catches fire

Solarize Portland catches fire

An Imagine Energy worker installs solar panels.

Homeowners in a Southeast Portland neighborhood have banded together to buy and install solar panels, knocking significant chunks off the price through high-volume purchasing. The 6-month-old Solarize Portland program has wildly exceeded expectations.

“We needed 50 homeowners” to provide the bulk purchasing power, says Tim O’Neal, a lead organizer for the project, “and 350 people signed up for site assessments.”

Taking inspiration from a similar project in San Francisco, Solarize Portland, with backing from the Energy Trust of Oregon, found it could purchase and install panels collectively to save up to 25%. That was on top of state and federal tax credits and cash incentives already in place which had reduced the panel price and installation by 80%. The organization then took requests for proposals from 12 trade partners of the trust and settled on Imagine Energy, a Portland consultancy firm.

Jonathan Cohen, founder of Imagine Energy, says the project now under way is by far the biggest his 6-year-old company has handled. “We don’t visit 96 homes in two years, let alone two months,” says Cohen, referring to the number of site inspections his energy firm has completed so far for the project’s grassroots organization. “This is a big opportunity for us,” said Cohen of his 12-employee company. “That is a big uptake in our capabilities.”

Cohen says Imagine Energy gives Solarize Portland members a choice of three types of panels differentiated by design, aesthetics and manufacturing.

He’s confident Imagine Energy will see even more business in the future, and local government and nonprofit organizations agree. “The Energy Trust installed only 152 residential systems in 2008 for the whole state,” says Energy Trust project manager Lizzie Rubado. She says the number of interested parties is so significant that the Energy Trust will apply the Solarize Portland model to homeowners in rural areas.

Lee Rahr, solar program coordinator for the City of Portland, says the city will receive a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to assist similar high-volume projects over the next two years.