Some home and business owners in Oregon are looking to the sky for their energy needs, turning sunlight directly into electricity under their utility's new Solar Electric Program. Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), Oregon's largest publicly owned utility based in Eugene, Ore., recently announced a voluntary program through which its customers can support new renewable electric generation in the Pacific Northwest. Launched in March, the program allows EWEB customers to produce clean, renewable power through the installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels and inverters, helping the utility increase the amount of power it generates from renewable sources.

“We've been actively pursuing solar electricity for six years, assessing the best way to approach solar for our customers,” says Bill Welch, EWEB energy management engineering supervisor.

EWEB's PV initiative began in 2000 with a four-year solar demonstration project that outlined the necessary steps the utility needed to take to create a premium solar program for its customers. So far, EWEB has installed 35 systems throughout Eugene with a combined capacity of 400 kilowatts.

EWEB promotes the use of photovoltaic systems in two ways. A net metering program allows customers to offset their electric usage with photovoltaic generation. The other option is a generation program for larger systems. Generation systems are tied directly to the utility's distribution system. EWEB buys all the electrical output from these photovoltaic systems.

“Our solar program is supplementary to our other conservation efforts,” says Welch. “It is not the answer to all of our energy needs, but it's an important and necessary step.”