solar PV in OregonPendleton, Ore., is showing how solar doesn’t need to be expensive.Photo: Ajay TallamThe upfront cost has always been the biggest barrier to solar photovoltaic (PV) adoption, and one Oregon town has found an innovative way to help its citizens buy down that cost.

The city borrowed from the sewer account to offer no-interest loans of $9,000 each. The repayment schedule, over four years, is tied to residents’ tax returns each spring, when they receive refunds of state and federal renewable energy tax credits.

All told, Lehman estimates the program will cost the city only $10,000 in lost interest over four years.

While the loan terms are short (four years), the repayment plan is tied to the state and federal tax credit schedule, essentially allowing interested home and business owners the chance to finance solar directly with those credits, rather than having to put their own money up front.

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The loan program spurred over 50 solar PV installations in 2010, in a town of just 16,500 residents. The residents not only received discount financing, but the city helped aggregate the purchase of the solar panels to get participants a “group buy” discount. Assuming a system size of 3 kilowatts and installed cost of $6.00 per watt, the city’s $10,000 investment got their residents approximately $1 million worth of new solar power.

The increase in solar installation activity had an effect even for those who didn’t use the town’s financing option:

Ken Abbott, a retired postal employee, didn’t use the loan program but took advantage of the lower installation prices that resulted from the large number of buyers.

Pendelton’s lesson to cities is that you don’t need a lot of money to make it a lot easier to go solar.

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