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Solar power could save the world

A Mercer Island home features east-facing solar roof panels.  - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
A Mercer Island home features east-facing solar roof panels.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

What do you call two days straight of rain in western Washington? A weekend!

What do you call three days straight of rain in western Washington? A holiday weekend!

Yes, these and other climatology knee-slappers are among my personal list of favorites. (In fact, in the spirit of full environmental disclosure, weather jokes are one thing I always recycle). But the funny thing is, the last laugh may be on us climate comedians, as our soggy stereotype now has to face a surprising truth: solar power is catching on, right here in Rain City.

Solar power is the number-one topic so far in my new Ask Andy e-mail box and at events such as the recent Green Festival in Seattle, with people firing off questions from Bellevue, Kirkland, Bellingham and Olympia.

What, people talking solar? Under our endless clouds? Where it rains all the time? Yes, nimbostratus, altocumulus and fog be darned. Solar is happening, right under our noses — or make that right on our rooftops. For many people in our area, they’re getting enough pop out of their solar panels to make the utility meter spin backwards. It’s called “net metering,” which is utility-ese for when you’re generating more juice than you’re consuming, and we credit you. No wonder this is catching on.

But it’s more than lowering your electric bill. Solar is a statement of independence and of taking action. That passion came through when I met Kirk, a solar installer from Olympia, who proudly showed me photos of a heating array that had the hot water tank going at better than 90 degrees one of those grim February days when you start hallucinating about palm trees.

Here are a few numbers: during the past year, as many Puget Sound Energy customers installed electric home solar panels as those who had installed them in the past eight years combined. In all, more than 250 homes here in Cloudopolis now use the sun to generate some or even all of their electricity. We have the same solar intensity as Germany, which is the current world leader in solar — and is a smidge north of the tropics, the last time I checked. But no, so far I haven’t heard that you need to scrape moss off the solar panel.

For our kids, solar power may just go from no-way to no-big-deal. Just this week, PSE announced it is giving five area schools grants to put up solar panels that will bring the power of alternative energy right into the classroom.

To learn more about solar in our area, check out SolarWashington.org and the “Customer Renewable Generation” section of PSE.com, or e-mail me at AskAndy@PSE.com.

Soon, maybe we’ll need a new page in the weather joke book.

What do you call the sunshine and solar panels in western Washington? Our little secret.

Andy Wappler is a senior public relations manager at Puget Sound Energy. He joined PSE in February 2008 after being chief meteorologist at KIRO-TV. He can be reached at AskAndy@PSE.com.

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