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Solar May Be State Energy Crisis Legacy

by William J. Kelly Friday, Jul. 26, 2002 at 8:54 PM 626-441-2112 1852 Oxley St., South Pasadena, CA 91030

A toehold for solar energy may be a positive and lasting legacy of California's electricity crisis.

Solar Energy May Be One Positive Legacy Of California’s Electricity Crisis

By William J. Kelly

Copyright Southland Reports, 2002

As summer swelters and power alerts again become a concern, one of the few positive and enduring legacies of California’s electricity crisis appears to be a growing toehold for solar power.

Faced with high electricity prices, Californians are turning to the sun as never before to take advantage of new, durable solar energy systems that offer long-term savings on electricity bills.

Spurred by state financial incentives and higher electricity bills, Californians have installed or contracted for almost 4,000 rooftop solar power systems since early 2001, state Energy Commission data show.

Typical of Californians taking advantage of the state incentive program is Hilding Sessoms, owner of a 50-year old drinking establishment, The Baby Doll, in Highland, Calif.

Sessoms is installing a rooftop solar system after seeing his electricity bills skyrocket between 200% and 400% over the past couple years. “We’re just trying to cut our electric bill,” he said.

California is helping him and other home and small business owners go solar by paying up to 50% of the cost of photovoltaic panels in a “buy down” program, said Hafiz Kahn, solar specialist with the Energy Commission in Sacramento.

Basic solar systems for a three-bedroom home cost around ,000 before the state subsidy, which is provided in a lump sum payment, said Kahn. The systems typically cut electric bills enough to pay for themselves in eight to ten years and then continue to produce power for another ten to 20 years, he added.

New photovoltaic systems installed since the energy crisis began will generate some 18 Megawatts of electricity, enough to serve a community of 18,000 homes, or some 50,000 people, according to the state energy agency.

Not only are individuals turning to solar energy, but increasingly California companies are becoming enamored with the sun. Indeed, solar power may be in the early stages of becoming a standard feature on new tract homes in the Golden State.

Delaware’s AstroPower, Inc., has recently closed deals with a spate of home builders to supply solar systems for whole tract developments, including such companies as Pardee Homes in San Diego, Premier Homes in Sacramento, and Clarum Homes in Palo Alto.

“It’s absolutely a first,” said Bob Ruggio, manager of residential sales for AstroPower. Under the agreements, he said, companies are building hundreds of solar-powered homes and eventually will finish more than a thousand.

Home buyers will begin saving on their electric bills the moment they move in, Ruggio said, because the value of the electricity produced by the solar panels will more than offset the increase in the mortgage cost. The average home buyer will save to a month, he said.

“When we made the decision to adopt the technology, we made it standard,” said John Stewart, principal of Premier Homes, which is installing solar in its new 250-home development in Lincoln, Calif., north of Sacramento. “We realize that solar electric power is here to stay.”

AstroPower will supply systems to two new Clarum Homes developments in Watsonville and East Palo Alto. “Solar electric power adds value to homes we build,” said John Suppes, vice president of Clarum.

Companies and government agencies are using larger systems too, including Neutrogena Corp. in Los Angeles, which has installed 24,000 square feet of photovoltaic panels that generate almost a third of a Megawatt.

More recently, the Los Angeles Community College District committed to install solar systems on many of the buildings it is constructing under a recently approved campus modernization bond measure.

Renewed interest in solar power and other renewable forms of energy, such as wind and geothermal systems, promises to benefit the California economy, according to a recent report by the California Public Interest Research Group Charitable Trust.

Doubling use of renewable energy in the state by 2010 would create 28,000 temporary construction jobs and 3,000 permanent new jobs servicing renewable energy systems, according to the report.

“Boosting our clean energy production will bring critically needed new employment for Californians,” remarked State Assembly Majority Leader Marco Firebaugh (D-East Los Angeles) upon release of the report late last month.

With more than 18,000 Megawatts of solar, wind, hydro, and biomass electrical generating equipment in use, California makes more renewable power than any state except Washington, with its massive hydroelectric dams, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Doubling use of renewable electricity would make California the undisputed leader in renewable power, according to the laboratory.

One company that has prospered with California’s increased use of renewable power is Siemens Solar, which makes photovoltaic cells in Camarillo, Calif. Atlantic Richfield started the firm in 1977 with ten people. Since then it has increased its production capacity thirty times to become one of the largest solar cell production plants in the world.

Californians interested in learning about the state rebate program for solar electric and other renewable energy systems should call the Energy Commission at 1-800-555-7794 or check on the web at (821 words: 4.20 to reprint)

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