White Center Now Home to Largest Array of Residential Solar Panels in the State


by Sarah Fox

White Center’s Greenbridge Community is living up to its name.  Work is underway on the rooftops of Greenbridge’s Sixth Place Apartments to install 213 solar photovoltaic panels.  With the completion of the solar panel array, Greenbridge housing will begin capturing clean and renewable “green” energy for White Center families. The community is leading the rest of the state across the “bridge” to a clean energy future: this solar panel array will be the largest residential solar panel installation in Washington State.

I stopped by Greenbridge recently to check out the new solar panel array, and I had to wonder: with grey skies like these, is solar power really feasible?

Solar power and the Pacific Northwest may seem incongruous, but as it turns out, those rooftop panels will produce energy even on our notorious overcast days.  According to the Clean Energy Technology Center at Shoreline Community College, “photovoltaic modules will produce electricity year round even in the diffuse light of a cloudy climate.”  While it may not be enough energy to keep every appliance running and all the lights burning at the same time, solar panels do produce reliable quantities of energy, enough to take a big chunk out of the power bill.  Its estimated that when the solar panel array at Greenbridge goes online this coming summer, they’ll produce a whopping 52,558 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.   Excess power not used in Greenbridge homes will go back into the power grid, saving Greenbridge residents even more money on the energy bill.  The new panels aren’t the first in Greenbridge: the Jim Wiley Community Center is already equipped with its own solar panel array.

Even though the new array has yet to begin producing power, the community is already realizing benefits from the project. King County Housing Authority (KCHA) Director of Communications Rhonda Rosenberg cites a national study by the Econsult Corporation, which concluded that every construction dollar spent in a public housing project “generates $2.12 in economic activity through wages, purchases of goods and services, and consumer spending by workers.”  The solar panel installation in Greeenbridge is currently creating four jobs.

Photo credit Bill Wright Photography

The Sixth Place Apartments solar panel array will cost $500,000.00 from start to finish.  $125.000.00 of that total is paid for by federal solar tax credits, and the $375,000.00 balance is being paid for by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds.   A & R Solar is installing the panels, overseen by Walsh Construction.  The rooftop system was designed by GGLO Architects, Glumac Engineers, and Michael Nouwens Structural Consultants.

“The entire region benefits when we produce power from a clean, renewable source,” notes KCHA Executive Director Stephen Norman.   “ Solar power helps offset the cost of providing electricity and reduces the taxpayer’s bill on an ongoing basis.”   Norman points to the solar panel installation as an indicator of the KCHA’s “continued progress towards a more cost-efficient and sustainable future for public housing.”

Rhonda Rosenberg notes the entire Greenbridge project has been certified “Three-Star Built Green™ by the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties.” She lists a few of the other sustainability innovations included in Greenbridge homes: “walls, roofs and windows insulated to standards significantly beyond code requirements,” “the use of ENERGY STAR lighting” on both the interiors and exteriors of the buildings, as well as “solar powered attic fans [to] keep the units cooler during the summer months by venting hot air from the attic spaces,” and “light tubes [to] minimize the need to use electric lighting during daylight hours.”  Greenbridge was clearly designed with the future in mind; other innovations include “biofiltration swales to clean surface water runoff and narrower road widths to help calm traffic and reduce impervious surface area.”  Even the landscaping is sustainable: native plant gardens designed to thrive in the northwest reduce the need for watering and maintenance.

White Center residents should take pride; homes in our zipcode are some of the greenest in the state, and community planners elsewhere will surely look here for inspiration as they attempt to re-imagine how their neighborhoods can sustain themselves in the future.

 


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