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Solar push is a wise, welcome move forward

The city of Hillsboro appears to be accelerating its already strong commitment to renewable energy sources — and to solar energy in particular — and it’s wonderful to see. On Jan. 20, members of the Hillsboro City Council unanimously passed a resolution geared to gain recognition from the U.S. Department of Energy by naming Hillsboro as a member of “Northwest Solar Communities.”

Northwest Solar Communities (NSC) is a “coalition of jurisdictions, utilities, industry partners and citizen groups … working under the U.S. Department of Energy’s ‘Sunshot Initiative’ and ‘Rooftop Solar Challenge’ program to reduce the ‘soft costs’ associated with installing rooftop solar electricity,” in the words of the organization’s website.

With the benefits of using solar power just as relevant elsewhere in Washington County as they are in Hillsboro, the cities of Forest Grove and Cornelius should consider getting involved with the NSC initiative.

Inclusion in NSC brings increased recognition that a community is committed to solar energy, and spotlights Hillsboro as a regional leader in this important field. In recent months, Hillsboro officials have demonstrated their commitment to solar power by increasing solar capacity in buildings owned by the city, hosting conferences on the value of solar and by waiving building permit fees for renewable energy projects. The city also has implemented a free online solar analysis tool known as MapDwell that, by using satellite imagery, allows area residents to see where the best position would be for solar panels on their homes.

MapDwell, which is sponsored locally by the Energy Trust of Oregon, is a phenomenal program. Using technology developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program provides a satellite map of a selected community, and then allows consumers to “click on a rooftop” (or search for a specific address) to see the potential a particular structure has for solar power. The MapDwell system then provides a chosen rooftop’s suitability for tapping solar power, based on the shape of the highlighted rooftop, local weather patterns, and shading from nearby structures or vegetation.

MapDwell is available for all of Washington County, so residents and businesses in other communities also can discover the solar power potential for their buildings and homes, free of charge.

All in all, the city of Hillsboro has been demonstrating a very progressive approach to solar technology, which is especially wise given that SolarWorld is headquartered in Hillsboro. SolarWorld is the largest solar producer in the United States, and has been for about 40 years.

Although gasoline prices are low right now, we all realize they can jump again at any time. Fossil fuels are by their very nature limited resources, and energy prices based on this industry are always going to be highly volatile. Green energy may require new thinking and the creation of new systems and technology to tap it, but in the long run it is clearly the smarter approach to take.

Promoting the use of solar is not only sound from an environmental standpoint, it is also in the community’s self-interest, as it serves to improve the market for solar power in general. This has a direct economic impact on the industry as a whole, and on SolarWorld as well. The company, which already has more than 700 employees, is planning to add another 200 workers in 2015 as part of a $10 million expansion at its Hillsboro facilities. The expansion project will significantly boost the capacity of SolarWorld’s solar panel and solar cell production.

In last week’s “State of the City” address, Mayor Jerry Willey noted that green power is taken seriously by Hillsboro officials. In fact, Willey bragged that “more than half of the electricity used by homes and businesses in Hillsboro comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar.”

This is progressive leadership, and the community is fortunate to have leaders willing to see the value in charting a path toward greater energy efficiency.

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