Sunny skys

January 1, 2008

We all know the importance of increasing the use of solar energy; it is a clean energy source and in these days of rising gas and electric costs and concern about global warming, it’s the smart choice. Home power generation is a great way to be self-sufficient and have the ability to generate your own electricity during storms or emergencies. Grid-connected electricity generation can dramatically reduce or eliminate payments to PG & E. Unfortunately, while the cost of installing systems has come down recently, and there are state and federal incentives, installing the systems can still be quite expensive. Thus, actions by local communities to help promote its use should be applauded.

Some COWs have told us that they have not received the friendliest reception from the Town with regard to installing solar. The Town of Woodside did host a meeting in October featuring information on installing a photovoltaic array. You can check out video of that meeting here on Mootube on this website. We hope that our Town COWncil will take further steps to encourage solar installations in our COWmunity.

There are many ways to encourage solar use by Town residents. For example, Menlo Park recently decided to stop charging a permitting fee to residents who want to install solar panels. The city council hoped that eliminating the fee, would encourage residents to increase the number of solar panels in the city. Woodside’s solar fee is very low – only $30, however, according to the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club, at least 14 nearby communities don’t charge any fee at all, including Belmont, San Carlos, and Los Altos Hills. San Francisco announced recently, that it will offer subsidies for systems built by residents and businesses. In addition, San Francisco plans to include a low-interest finance program that would let residents pay back the cost of solar installation over time. While we do not think a subsidy is feasible, a low interest finance plan could be explored.

Residents in Portola Valley and the entire county of Marin are enjoying, discounted solar installation rates through a community purchase plan. The voluntary plans allow groups of citizens of an area to purchase solar installations at the same time, receiving a bulk rate discount from a solar company. The Marin plan, which is open to all residents of that county, saves participants 15% of the average cost of installation, and combined with state and federal tax credits and rebates, will allow payback of the system within seven years instead of ten. The Portola Valley project was even a better deal – discounts ranged from 25-30%! Certainly our Town could help coordinate such a program.

We’re really lucky to live and work in Woodside, a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and woods. Living “green” should be natural to our COWmunity. At a minimum, the Town should explore the possibility of using solar on its own facilities. Leadership should set an example.

More information on solar power can be found here and here. For information on living “off the grid” click here and here.

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