Villla powers up with solar panels
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Villla powers up with solar panels

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Winston, ORMariposa Villa, the new nine-unit, transitional housing apartment complex managed by the Umpqua Community Action Network, soaks up a third of its energy from the sun.

The 104 solar panels facing the sky over Winston are not only the most for an apartment complex in Douglas County, they are also the first to furnish clean energy to Oregon transitional housing. And with residential energy prices increasing annually across the nation between 2 and 3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Mariposa Villa is set to save some cash in the future.

Funded by the Oregon Housing and Community Services agency, Mariposa Villa is also equipped with energy-saving appliances, compact fluorescent light bulbs and heavier insulation. It purchases renewable energy through PacifiCorp’s Blue Sky for the remainder of its energy needs, and incoming residents are required to attend an energy conservation course.

Of the nine units, five are being served by the solar panels. A water heater for the laundry room is also strictly powered by solar energy. Together, on average, the solar panels should produce about 22,900 kilowatt hours per year.

According to the Department of Energy, in 2005 the monthly average consumption of electricity for a residence was 938 kilowatt hours. A 100-watt light bulb left on for 10 hours will consume one kilowatt hour.

The savings in energy consumption each year for Mariposa Villa should translate to about $2,000, hinging upon weather patterns and other factors.

“It all depends on the occupants and if they turn the lights off or not,” said Al Walker, the owner of Energy Independence Co. in Glide who installed the solar panels for UCAN.

Mariposa Villa, however, is not completely “off the grid” and independent of electrical utilities. To do so would require solar batteries, and “they’re a lot of maintenance and a lot of extra expense,” Walker said.

“It’s the largest project so far, as solar goes, in the county,” Walker said.

After equipment and installation, Liebowitz said the solar hook-up cost roughly $136,000, largely funded by Oregon Housing and Community Services and other tax credits.

Walker said the solar water heater alone cost $8,000, but after tax credits and incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon Inc. and other sources, the price was cut in half. Homeowners, he said, can use the same incentives to install a solar water heater for about $4,000.

By ADAM PEARSON, The News-Review

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