The Thurston Solar Tour got just what it needed Saturday afternoon as gray skies gave way to another day of sun, prompting several people to get out and learn a little more about solar power in the area.
The tour, which has existed for about eight years, featured 19 stops. They’re a mix of residences, businesses and one church that have had solar panels installed on rooftops, said Kirk Haffner, president of South Sound Solar, an Olympia business that installs and also consults on solar panel installations.
Haffner said South Sound Solar installed solar panels on 11 of the 19 tour destinations. The tour promotes renewable energy to the public, he said.
“People are going to the homes and businesses, and they get to hear firsthand about why they made this choice,” he said. “It’s a way to go peer-to-peer to get more information to the public.”
Several couples stopped at a residence in the 1400 block of 13th Avenue Southeast in Olympia. It’s a home owned by Cheryl Bayle, 57, that now has three solar panels, but also has the infrastructure in place to support as many as 15 panels, she said.
The home’s panels generate about 700 watts of power.
Bayle only recently occupied the home, but she expects it will lower her power bill to $15 a month.
In addition to having solar panels, the 2,020-square-foot Bayle home is extremely energy-efficient; it was custom-built by green-home builder Scott Bergford of Scott Homes of Olympia.
Its energy-efficient features include triple-pane windows; extra-thick insulation; a ductless heat pump, which also cools the house; two rain gardens; and a combination toilet/sink. The sink is on top of the toilet. Water used to refill the toilet after each flush is streamed through a typical bathroom sink faucet so users can wash their hands.
Puget Sound Energy also had representatives on site to explain how the utility works.
After an installer is chosen and a house passes inspection on the solar panel installation, PSE installs two meters. One measures how much power is being produced by the solar panels, and another meter – a bi-directional net meter – shows how much power is being used by residents or is being sent back to the utility.
Power being sent back to the utility results in a bill credit, said Jake Wade, net metering program manager for PSE. In the 2011-12 solar year – June 1-July 30 – PSE paid out $1.1 million in metering checks, he said.
Based on the amount of power produced and the solar panel manufacturing location (PSE pays a higher rate for Washington-made products), PSE cuts a check once a year to the homeowner that is capped at $5,000.