Starting this month, Clark Public Utilities is donating the revenue from 680 solar panels to its in-house charity.
The utility’s Board of Commissioners voted on Dec. 17 to shift the funds to the charity, Operation Warm Heart, which helps families struggling with finances to pay their electric heating bills.
Operation Warm Heart has been entirely funded by donations until now. In the past, the charity was funded by utility customers’ donations, and also by an annual run called the Race for Warmth, which in 2019 raised about $66,000.
“It’s pretty exciting because the utility has wanted to create a stable funding source for Operation Warm Heart for quite some time,” said Dameon Pesanti, spokesman for Clark Public Utilities. “It’s been entirely donation-supported since day one.”
The 680 solar units make up about 5 percent of the total solar array, he wrote in an email to The Columbian, which will add to the $3.6 million in donations to about 15,000 families since 1985.
The charity-designated solar units should generate about 15 kilowatts, which accounts for about $1,500 in annual revenue for next 20 years, said Matt Babbitts, the utility’s energy services project manager.
The Community Solar project launched in 2015 at Clark Public Utilities’ operations center at 8600 N.E. 117th Ave. The utility gathered investors for the project by offering state incentive checks and credits on electricity bills. The incentive checks end in 2020, but the energy credits continue for another 20 years. Those credits are only offered for Clark County residents, and investors who have moved away don’t receive them; instead, they are now going to Operation Warm Heart. Of the roughly 700 investors from 2015, about three or four dozen have moved out of the county, and any additional relinquished units will have their revenue donated to Operation Warm Heart.
The average grant for Operation Warm Heart is about $290, according to Pesanti. In 2018, 779 households received a grant and in 2019, 888 households had been helped as of Dec. 14.
The Community Solar project hit its cap for investors in 2015 and has no plans for expanding, unless state legislators designate more incentives for solar power in the future. In that case, Babbitts said the commissioners for Clark Public Utilities may consider an expansion.