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Seattle Affordable Housing Gets A Boost from the Sun

Posted by Cecilia Garza

Craig Smith of Seattle City Light, Joel Sisolak of Capitol Hill Housing, Steve Gelb of Emerald Cities Seattle, and Mikaela Gonzales of Spark Northwest. Photo / Spark Northwest

At SVP, we can’t help but celebrate the successes of our investees. Their progress and growth shows not only that we’re supporting them well, but sheds light on the potential that lies ahead for a thriving and sustainable region. Spark Northwest, is no exception. Their recent win for Seattle residents is a vital first step to building access to renewable energy.

“When you own your own home, you can choose to go solar, but when you rent, you don’t control your roof,” says Mikaela Gonzales, project manager at Spark Northwest.

“The goal of ACE for All is to find ways for more people to participate in the clean energy economy.”

A recent study reported that 55 percent of low-income households face more than twice the energy burden than the typical Seattle household, based on energy costs as percentage of income.

That’s why, in 2014, Spark Northwest launched Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) for All. Convening stakeholders around housing and energy, the group provides the best information on bringing solar energy to multifamily affordable housing in Seattle. And this fall, Spark Northwest took the work a step further by finding a housing property that could model these energy solutions.

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Three Capitol Hill Housing properties, home to 147 low-income residents, will get rooftop solar power to generate their own electricity and reduce operating costs. Plus, residents will be involved in deciding how to use the savings.

The installations are the culmination of years of planning by Spark Northwest, Emerald Cities Seattle and Capitol Hill Housing.

“It’s been a great team effort to bridge the green divide and bring solar energy to communities who struggle to cover basic needs such as electricity,” says Spark Northwest Executive Director Jennifer Grove.

Emerald Cities Seattle offered a tested model, combining low-interest loans with energy efficiency retrofits. Spark Northwest brought solar energy expertise to the mix for a winning recipe. “It just makes sense to bundle solar energy with efficiency, so housing providers can save even more,” said Steve Gelb, Director of Emerald Cities Seattle.

GRID alternatives, a nationally recognized non-profit solar installer, supported site evaluations with a remote computer-based assessment tool. Seattle City Light’s Green Up grants program awarded a total of $225,000 to the three projects, paving the way for Capitol Hill Housing to move forward on an investment of over $518,000 that will yield energy savings for the next 30 years.

The savings generated by the solar projects will establish a building improvement fund that residents will be involved in deciding how to spend. Additionally, the installations will sustain family-wage solar installation jobs.

Joel Sisolak of Capitol Hill Housing said, “This demonstrates a pathway for affordable housing providers and tenants to participate in the clean energy economy, where they have been historically excluded.”

Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities Seattle have plans to drive even more installations throughout King County. Their partnership is in ongoing discussions with housing providers to scale up the demonstration projects by installing a megawatt of solar on multifamily rooftops by the end of June 2019.

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