Projects and Stories

SunShot Solar In Your Community Challenge

Increasing access to solar energy for all Oregonians.

SunShot_Challenge_Logo
U.S. Department of Energy

The Challenge


In 2017, Sustainable Northwest and local partners were awarded seed funding and an opportunity to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot: Solar In Your Community Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to rapidly increase access to solar energy, particularly for low and middle income communities.


Sustainable Northwest leads a growing coalition of rural Oregon municipal and nonprofit entities, collectively known as Making Energy Work for Rural Oregon. To compete in the challenge, we partnered with nonprofit and municipal partners in three counties: Lake County, Douglas County, and Hood River County.

We are very proud of our progress and the exceptional work of our dedicated partners.

Solar for all

Whether it's creating local jobs, harnessing home grown energy or advancing climate solutions, we believe the benefits of solar energy should be made available to everyone. That's why we're working to bring innovative solar solutions, such as community solar and cooperative models, to communities across Oregon. Our team set out to pilot, refine, and replicate community-financed solar energy on local public facilities such as schools, churches, and libraries.

Completed projects

As a result of the SunShot Challenge, the team completed a total of 120kW of solar on four separate nonprofit facilities in three rural Oregon counties. The solar installations resulted in utility bill reductions between 10-50% for an average of 20% bill savings. The average installed cost of the systems came to $2.90/W across an average installation size of 30kW.

Hood River Public Works (30kW): This facility serves the entire city of Hood River, population 7,702, whose transportation services promote public health and safety. Installed in August 2017, this SunShot project was the first renewable energy cooperative-funded project in the state of Oregon. Funding for the project came from an Energy Trust of Oregon incentive and an Oregon Clean Power Cooperative loan.

“This is about more than just clean energy, it’s about investing in your community. People are interested in alternatives to Wall Street, looking for ways to put their money to work closer to home.” Dan Orzech, SunShot partner and General Manager of the Oregon Clean Power

Hood River Groundbreaking
Hood River Groundbreaking

The Oregon Clean Power Cooperative was enabled through SB 1520. It passed in 2014, and allows Oregonians to form cooperatives to finance renewable energy projects without having to file securities registration with the SEC. The bill extended the state’s cooperative exemption to renewable energy cooperatives, an extension of a law that already existed for agriculture, fisheries, and mobile home parks.

“By investing in community solar, the city can help create new jobs, increase tax revenue, while lowering the city’s energy costs and carbon output,” said Mark Lago, City Public Works Director.

Hood River Public Works
Hood River Public Works

Hood River County Health Department (24.5kW): This facility serves all of Hood River County, population 23,377, whose services support full-time residents, visitors and seasonal residents, providing a variety of health services to low-income families with an emphasis on reaching multi-lingual families where English is the second language. Funding for this project came from a Pacific Power Blue Sky grant.

Our team will work with the County in 2019 to ensure they are successful in financing storage and highlight the importance solar + storage can play in resilience planning. Hood River County declared three natural emergencies in 2017: a damaging ice storm; an oil train explosion; and a human-caused megafire in the Columbia Gorge, all effectively shutting down Interstate 84 – the primary transit corridor serving the Columbia Gorge and Hood River. These events were not only dangerous and life-threatening for residents and neighboring communities, but costly as well.

Hood River Public Health
Hood River Public Health

Lake County Library (22kW): Libraries are a cornerstone for rural communities, serving as a gathering place for community events, a supplemental resource for young students, and a gateway to the rest of the world through high speed internet. The Lakeview Library is no different in this rural and isolated county in southern Oregon, receiving over 20,000 annual visitors with a county population of just 7,800. Funding for this project came from a Pacific Power Blue Sky grant and the Oregon Clean Power Cooperative.

“The team made the complicated process of designing the project and installing so easy on the library, returning valuable tax dollars to library services for many years to come.” Amy Hutchinson, Lakeview Library Director

Lakeview Library
Lakeview Library

Saving Grace Animal Shelter (43kW): Saving Grace, a non-profit that provides a unique niche operating as the county’s only full-service animal shelter, has performed over 7,300 surgeries and saved over 30,000 animals since their doors opened in 2002. Funding for this project came from a Pacific Power Blue Sky grant.

"Throughout the lifetime of the equipment, solar PV will allow Saving Grace to better absorb cost increases and continue to improve the quality of care for the animals who look to us for their very futures." Link to real-time production information.

Saving Grace Animal Shelter
Saving Grace Animal Shelter

Next Steps

In addition to the projects summarized above, our team has 15 additional projects in the pipeline in varying stages of project readiness, many with feasibility and site drawings completed or underway. This includes a food pantry, a rural volunteer fire station, a regional conservation organization, a veteran assistance facility, a middle school, a senior center, a church, and a community college.

Planning and Site Assessments in Hood River
Planning and Site Assessments in Hood River

In addition to installing net-metered solar on four public facilities, the team went to work identifying at least one community solar location in each county. The Oregon Community Solar Program was enabled through legislation passed in 2016, but has undergone an extensive two-year rulemaking process at the Public Utility Commission and has not yet launched. Given program delays, our team moved forward completing site assessments for several potential locations, and are poised to pursue project development at sites in each of our partner counties from 2019 to 2020.