Community and offsite solar projects are now an option available to Ashland residents and businesses who previously couldn’t benefit from a solar panel system because of the location of their properties.

With much of the city located right up against the to the south hill, roughly half of Ashland homes are located in shady areas and are not suitable places to install solar panels, said Shaun Franks of True South Solar, a local solar consultant company who has done the majority of projects in Ashland.

“We won’t install your panels if there’s not enough sun,” Franks said. “It doesn’t matter if you have all the money in the world, it just didn’t make sense.”

Franks said, nonetheless, Ashland has a big market for solar projects. Out of 163 projects the company installed last year, 74 of them are in Ashland, he said. According to the city’s records, there were 214 registered participants in 2016.

Ashland has proactively encouraged its residents to install solar systems using financial incentives — an effort aligning with the city’s Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP), the city’s Conservation Analyst Larry Giardina said.

“But over time, we have residents who are interested in installation but they couldn’t do it because of shade, space limit or because they live in an apartment,” Glardina said. “This change will enable new opportunities. It will make the people who previously couldn’t install potential participants.”

Ashland currently offers a solar electric tax credit of 50 cents per watt up to $7,500 for residential solar projects and a one-time tax benefits upon installation of a solar system.

The change in the resolution, approved unanimously by the City Council in December, opens a new door for ratepayer accounts to install a solar system anywhere within the city and still receive the financial benefits through virtual net metering — a policy that allows energy produced at one electric meter to be forwarded to another meter.

The change will also let a group of accounts share in the production of a combined solar installation and create leasing opportunities for buildings with large rooftops throughout the city.

By participating, customers will receive a one kilowatt-hour credit on their bill for each kilowatt-hour generated, up to their total annual consumption during the solar year from April 1 through March 31, a press release reads.

“It’s a good policy that will help the city of Ashland,” said Kirpal Khalsa, general manager of Oregon Solarworks. “Now everyone can have access to put in solar systems without the obstacles of the location.”

The changes in the city’s resolution will most likely attract single-account, offsite projects in the next couple of years, Giardina said.

“(Community panels) are a little more complicated,” he explained, as it would require a main account holder to be responsible of notifying the city of how many percentage of the generated power goes to which account within the system.

Community panel systems could also be considered as a commercial system, depending on the numbers of account within one system, Giardina said.

The changes have been planned for years in response to residents’ requests and to follow the city’s CEAP effort to reduce contribution to global carbon pollution, he added.

Ashland is also in the process to fulfill its commitment to citizen-initiated ordinance, called “10x20,” to produce 10 percent of the electricity used in the city from clean and local sources by the year 2020. The city hit an impasse in December after staff told the council a solar farm would not be feasible and advised against it.

Giardina said the virtual net metering will help contribute to the cause, but doubts the new installations will reach the goal set by 10x20.

“We don’t anticipate any major increase from this,” he said.

The financial impact on the city under the new rules would also be “marginally small,” staff told the City Council in December.

Giardina said he is “hopeful” with the change will increase the number of Ashland residents who install solar panel systems, but he also expects to see an increase in costs “as least in the short run” as President Donald Trump introduced new tariffs on imported panels.

“It’s too early in the game to tell what’s going to happen,” Khalsa said. "Bur solar has been going crazy in Ashland. People love it there.”

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.