KENT — Fleeting sunlight offered a brief dose of warmth — and energy — just as the final solar panels were being installed this spring atop Kent United Methodist Church. Children running through the parking lot below peered as electricians hauled each panel to the roof. Their mother craned her neck as she pushed a stroller, also intrigued.

Once completed, the array is projected to offset three-quarters of the church’s annual energy consumption.

The project was made possible through a $102,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy. In total, more than $954,000 has been awarded this year to 13 nonprofits, tribes and other community groups — including Kent UMC — to promote solar power among organizations serving low-income, Black or Indigenous people and people of color.

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Public officials and PSE representatives joined parishioners Sunday to celebrate the successful installation of the solar panel array.

“We can take those savings and invest it right back in the community beyond the walls of our church,” Pastor Jim Head-Corliss said during the event Sunday.


The 40-kilowatt array now on top of Kent UMC is estimated to produce more than 41,000 kilowatt-hours a year, according to PSE.

Kent UMC partnered with Mad Energy NW, a solar power firm based in Auburn, to install the panels.

Shifting away from planet-warming fossil fuels and toward cleaner forms of energy like solar is crucial as Washington state works to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions within the next few decades.

While large, regional energy providers and public utilities like PSE will need to phase out fossil fuels to achieve that goal, expanding the use of renewable energy at the community level is also vital and could, if anything, accelerate the clean-energy transition.

A recent example of such change is the proliferation across U.S. states of community solar — also known as shared solar or solar gardens — which refers to a project or program in which solar energy flows from one source to multiple customers in a single community.

Community solar can help provide clean energy to people for whom property, location or money would make it impossible to install a complete array on their own.


During the state’s most recent biennial legislative session, which ended in March, lawmakers passed a bill that established an incentive program to fund the installation of solar panels in certain buildings across low-income communities.

While subsidies and tax incentives can pave the way for equitable access to solar power, the conversation often begins among neighbors, through word-of-mouth.

“We’re very visible from the street,” Kent UMC spokesperson Pat Gray said last month, standing in the church parking lot as the last panels were being carried up to the roof for installation.

While the solar energy generated by Kent UMC will be used to power only the church, Gray and others hope it will draw attention to community solar and other forms of clean energy.

Installing the equipment necessary to tap into the energy of the sun can be expensive for residential homeowners, and close to impossible for renters. While community solar can be much more accessible, the trend is still young. In many cases demand exceeds supply and eager would-be customers have no choice but to join a waitlist, give up or look elsewhere.

But Gray believes community solar is gaining momentum. “People have been very supportive here, and very excited.”


PSE grant recipients this year comprised the Child Care Action Council, Medicine Creek Enterprise Corporation, Quixote Communities and Thurston County Food Bank in Thurston County; Ferndale Food Bank, Lydia Place, the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Whatcom Center for Early Learning in Whatcom; Kent UMC in King; Kitsap Community Resources and the Suquamish Tribe in Kitsap; the Samish Indian Nation in Skagit; and Sumner Community Food Bank in Pierce.

Solar arrays across these 13 locations will generate roughly 514,000 kilowatt-hours annually. According to PSE, that would power more than 50 average households a year.

The power supplier has awarded more than $3 million to 48 projects over the last five years.