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Medford, Ashland homes open for green, solar tours

Ashland and Medford are among 11 Oregon communities with green and solar home tours planned this fall, a statewide event organized by Solar Oregon.

In the last year, prices have dropped on many solar products, and financial incentives have been added or expanded for homeowners, including federal and state tax credits and cash-back incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon. Some homeowners may even be able to access Oregon's new solar option, the feed-in tariff program.

The solar tours offer looks into the latest technology, including renewable power solutions, such as solar electric and solar water heating, to energy-saving and environmentally sensitive building practices, including use of earth-friendly and recycled materials, rainwater harvesting and high-efficiency design.

"Green & Solar Tours offers a unique opportunity to see how solar and green technology is taking foothold right in our own communities," said Markus Stoffel, executive director of Solar Oregon. "It's a chance to get inspired and talk with other local homeowners and organizations that are helping to lead the way."

Solar Oregon, a nonprofit organization that provides public education and community outreach to encourage Oregonians to choose solar energy, is working with local tour coordinators to plan and implement tours.

Medford's tour is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 2, and Ashland's tour is Saturday, Oct. 9.

Other tours include Bend/Sisters (Oct. 2), Coos Bay (Oct. 2), Eugene (Oct. 3), Hood River (Oct. 2), John Day (Sept. 25), Pendleton (Oct. 2), Portland (Sept. 25), Roseburg (Oct. 2) and Salem (Oct. 2). For more information, visit www.solaroregon.org/2010tours.

According to the Energy Trust of Oregon, solar installations at Oregon homes and businesses have risen dramatically in the last year despite a down economy. In 2008, Energy Trust saw 487 solar-energy system installations. In 2009 that number reached 676. For 2010, Energy Trust expects approximately 1,200 or more systems to be installed.

Energy Trust, a cosponsor of the tour, is a nonprofit organization that offers services, cash incentives and energy solutions to help Oregon utility customers save energy and tap renewable resources.

The boom is partly due to a new community-driven bulk buy program cropping up across the state, which helps large groups of neighbors go solar together. In Portland, it launched as Solarize Portland, where four such efforts have taken place.

The model has spread to other Oregon cities, as well. Pendleton has 60 installations underway, with Beaverton and Salem expected to add even more with their recently launched programs.

"This is an exciting time to go solar in our state," said Kacia Brockman, senior solar program manager for the Energy Trust. "Tax credits and incentives, along with community programs like Solarize, are making clean, renewable power from the sun a possibility for more Oregonians than ever."

More than 20,000 homes presently use solar power in Oregon and many more are getting comprehensive energy-efficiency upgrades through local initiatives, Brockman said.

Pre-registration for the tours is required.

For information or to register for the Ashland tour, which is organized by the city of Ashland, go online at http://ashlandparks.recware.com or call 541-488-6606. The cost is $10.

The tour, which will visit five houses, begins at 9 a.m. at the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St., Ashland. Tour participants will travel by buses, with a bring-your-own lunch stop along the way, and return around 3 p.m.

To register for the Rogue Valley Green & Solar Tour, organized by Earth Advantage, go online at www.earthadvantage.org and look under "Education + Events," or call 541-840-8302. Tickets cost $12, which includes transportation.

The Rogue Valley tour, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will visit five houses and include architects, builders and homeowners giving presentations and guidance throughout the tour. Snacks and coffee will be at the registration table at the first house. The tour provides bus transportation to each home.

Bring shoes that might be easy to slip off. Bathrooms will be available at each home.

The tour includes an educational, one-hour lunch stop. Attendees can either bring a bag lunch or buy something at the stop. The bus will return no later than 3 p.m.