The twists and turns of 2020 have created challenges for many local non-profit organizations. Of the many concerns these non-profits have, the last thing they want to worry about is increasing electric bills. 

Fortunately, four Whatcom County non-profits recently received sizeable grants from Puget Sound Energy for installing solar panels on their offices or other essential structures. Kulshan Community Land Trust, Lummi Nation Housing Authority, Lydia Place and Opportunity Council were four of this year’s 10 grant recipients for the program, which is in its third year and has provided more than $1.3 million to non-profits across PSE’s Washington service map. 

The solar grants are paid for by PSE’s Green Power Program, which allows PSE customers to voluntarily purchase renewable local energy. Because PSE makes no profit on the program, customer funds are put directly back into the program’s marketing, administration and taxes. Additional revenue from the program is used to create the solar energy grants for non-profits. 

Kulshan Community Land Trust received a $75,000 grant, which allows its already energy-efficient Telegraph Townhome development to aim for net-zero energy consumption. Photo courtesy Puget Sound Energy

Tyler O’ Farrell, PSE’s Clean Energy Product Manager, says the program typically distributes about $300,000 in each round of grants. So far, 20 organizations have been provided with 580 kilowatts of solar energy equipment, capable of producing about 580,000 kilowatt-hours  of renewable energy. 

Organizations that apply for the grant are asked about their electric usage, and how solar energy would benefit them and the people they serve. If chosen to receive a grant, each non-profit is provided with a list of recommended solar panel installers, and work with these contractors to provide documentation on cost and panel effectiveness to PSE. 

Typically, O’Farrell says they have a limit of $75,000 per project, but some projects could cost less allowing for other organizations to receive funding. This year, with grant approval coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April, PSE approved all 10 applicants and provided them with upwards of $580,000 in total grant money. 

Lydia Place was awarded over $40,000 towards the installation of a 17.5 kW solar panel system on their Bell Tower facility. Photo courtesy Puget Sound Energy

For Whatcom County’s Opportunity Council, their more than $40,000 grant provided a 14.85 kW solar array for the organization’s new Whatcom Recovery House, a clean-and-sober housing facility that will open early next year. The structure will house 16 residents undergoing substance abuse treatment, with on-site mental and behavioral support staff. 

“We thought it was such a critical time for the customers that we were serving, and a critical time for the organizations that also serve certain people,” O’Farrell says. “So, we focused on organizations that supported low income housing and transitional housing. We knew it was going to be a tough time for many of these organizations, so whatever we could do to benefit these customers was something we were excited about.” 

In helping reduce overall energy costs, Wendy Lawrence, the Opportunity Council’s director of housing development and property management, says more resources can instead be focused on critical recovery resources for the facility’s residents. 

Lydia Place, which serves homeless individuals and families, was awarded over $40,000 towards the installation of a 17.5 kW solar panel system on their Bell Tower facility, home to five families consisting of pregnant and parenting mothers and their children. It’s also the operating hub of their housing and mental health programs. As of late August, executive director Emily O’ Connor says the system is fully operational. 

The grant allows Lydia Place to conserve dollars that it can apply to further program use, O’ Connor says, providing more flexibility to vulnerable children and families in Whatcom County, especially during a pandemic. 

“Saving money on operational costs, as this solar panel system allows, means more resources available to do just that,” O’Connor says. “It means fewer children will spend nights in cars. More books, diapers, and basic needs will be met, and it means more families will have access to emergency financial assistance to stay stably housed through these tough times.”

Kulshan Community Land Trust’s Christina Olson: “Since our organization works with low- to moderate-income buyers, it’s important to us that the homes we build into the trust are not only affordable to initially purchase, but also affordable to maintain and live in for the long-term.” Photo courtesy Puget Sound Energy

For Kulshan Community Land Trust, the $75,000 grant was used to install solar panels on the first two phases of their Telegraph Townhome development, currently under construction. The solar panels will allow the already energy-efficient development to aim for net-zero energy consumption, says Kulshan’s Christina Olson. 

“From a practical perspective, offering green power will make these units more desirable because they will offset a great amount of the electrical costs to live in the homes,” she says. “Since our organization works with low- to moderate-income buyers, it’s important to us that the homes we build into the trust are not only affordable to initially purchase, but also affordable to maintain and live in for the long-term.”

The next round of PSE solar grants will award more than $1 million in funds. For more information, please visit the PSE website.

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