By Lorraine Wilde
Since 1999, non-profit Kulshan Community Land Trust has placed 116 homes in trust, providing access to homeownership that low- to moderate-income working people can permanently afford. That has been no small feat considering that home prices in the area have increased more than 60-percent while median wages have only increased by 3-percent over the same time frame. In more recent years, Kulshan Community Land Trust has added an additional layer to its mission to aid the escape of those feeling stuck in the rental market. Through progressive environmental planning and fostering solid local partnerships, Kulshan Community Land Trust is now offering free solar technology to some of its homeowners.
“Several years ago, we applied for a grant from a local person, someone who prefers to remain anonymous but supports renewable energy,” explains Kulshan Community Land Trust Programs Director, Christina Olson. “The first grant was to place solar on just one house with the intention that it might become the first Net Zero home in Whatcom County.” A Net Zero building is one in which the total energy used on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on-site.
“Although that home may not have been the first in Whatcom County, it was later purchased by Jeff and Annie Aslan in 2014, and this year they will achieve Net Zero status,” beams Olson. The Aslans were personally motivated to make energy improvements to their home in addition to the Kulshan Community Land Trust solar investment. Jeff Aslan’s expertise as Sustainable Connections Energy Program Manager came in handy. “After some upgrades, our home produced twice as much electricity as it consumed this year,” explains Jeff. “Overall we were able to bring down our energy usage by about 75-percent compared to the previous homeowners. It’s so exciting to see Kulshan Community Land Trust adding solar to their homes.”
In 2012, Kulshan Community Land Trust placed solar systems on two additional homes while acquiring other grant funds to build two homes to Passivhaus standards, so energy-efficient that solar installation was unnecessary. “With those successes, we also wanted to help our older homes in the trust become more green and more sustainable,” notes Olson. Last year, Kulshan Community Land Trust opened up the possibility of free solar systems to all of its remaining homeowners.
With limited funds and the help of Bellingham-based Ecotech Solar designers and installers, Kulshan Community Land Trust developed an application process to help determine which homes would benefit most, getting the most bang for the bucks available. “We considered a number of factors among the 35 applicants including roof type and age, slope, tree cover, and existing insulation and electrical systems. We wanted to maximize the number of homes we could outfit for the least cost,” explains Olson. “We helped some applicants get a new roof, some with weatherization, and most were evaluated by Ecotech Owner and Founder, Dana Brandt, and Project Manager, Pete Day, to see where solar made the most sense.”
“What Kulshan Community Land Trust is doing is pretty incredible, and we are so pleased to have been involved early on,” says Brandt. “The incentives also make this a great time for anyone to get into solar, even without the help of an anonymous donor. Available incentives include a one-time federal tax credit for 30 percent of the system cost through 2016, a state sales tax exemption through mid-2018, as well as the Washington State Production Incentive of $0.54/kiloWatt-hour available through 2020. Supply and demand has also brought down the overall costs each year,” she adds.
Most of the Kulshan Community Land Trust homes evaluated were well suited for solar systems. Seven were chosen late last year and this spring and summer 11 more were equipped with solar systems by both Ecotech and Western Solar. “What’s great about this program is that we are effectively lowering the electric bills of our participants for decades to come,” notes Kulshan Community Land Trust Executive Director, Dean Fearing. “The collaboration between our staff, local agencies, and businesses has been essential to the success of the project.”
In addition to Ecotech and Western Solar, another local business has contributed significantly. Solar panels and inverters are manufactured locally by Itek Energy, founded in Whatcom County in 2011 by John Flanagan. Itek has created more than 75 full-time green jobs while sustaining the area economy. “Itek is great company and their presence here eliminates the need for, and the associated cost of, California distributors that previously sourced solar materials from as far away as Japan,” explains Brandt. “That reduces the cost to homeowners and the environment by reducing fossil fuels used for transport.”
In early July, US Congressman Rick Larsen helped with the latest round of installations by climbing onto the roof of one of two new infill Kulshan Community Land Trust homes locally designed by Greg Robinson and built by Cascade Joinery. Both homes were designed to meet Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards that balance energy efficiency and affordable new construction. That balance includes a smaller footprint, top quality insulation (R-value 28) and LED lighting.
The future is also bright for other Kulshan Community Land Trust homeowners that didn’t receive solar in this round. “We were challenged by our anonymous donor to find matching funds,” explains Olson. “Itek gave us a generous discount as part of that match and we will be able to pool the Washington State Production Incentives generated by the existing 21 Kulshan Community Land Trust home systems along with any future installations each year through 2020. Those incentives will fund additional solar systems on Kulshan Community Land Trust homes. We love this approach because it allows our homeowners to cut down their costs at home and pay it forward to other Kulshan Community Land Trust homeowners.”
For more information about Kulshan Community Land Trust, visit Kulshan Community Land Trust online or call 360-671-5600.