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Sebastopol Council OKs Solar Energy Use Project

by Corey Young
Sonoma West Staff Writer

March 13, 2003
SEBASTOPOL A program to encourage the residential use of solar power won City Council approval last week and the council hired a consultant to develop pilot projects and help homeowners go solar.

Cooperative Community Energy (CCE), a San Rafael-based energy cooperative, will spearhead the city's efforts to bring solar power to residents through financial incentives and public education. The goal of the project, called Solar Sebastopol, is to help local residents buy and install solar electric systems.

The education campaign will include a handful of solar sites around Sebastopol designed to show the public how solar power can save money on electricity.

Sebastopol Council OKs Solar Energy Use Project

Solar panels will go up on three or four sites in the city "to give the program some exposure," said Brent Eubanks, the Solar Sebastopol project manager.

CCE will approach local businesses to see if they are willing to participate in the pilot program, and city properties like wells and the police station could be used. The city has already agreed to use solar power at the fire station on Bodega Avenue and the public works building on Johnson Street.

The pilot programs will show the community the benefits of solar power, said Eubanks.

"Our purpose is to try to make it easy for people to go solar, particularly with solar electric," he said. CCE will help homeowners find contractors to install the equipment and will take care of the paperwork, including energy rebates and building permits, he said.

"We're really there as a combination of a guide and a handholder to help people through the process," said Eubanks, who will be working full-time with Sebastopol residents interested in solar power.

The program could also involve outreach to local schools, training workshops and an energy fair later this year, all in an effort to spread the word about solar.

"We want to make this stuff familiar to people," said Eubanks, "so it becomes real to them it's not scary anymore. We want to see solar electricity become common and everyday."

A recent survey of Sebastopol homeowners conducted by the city showed real interest in the use of solar, he said.

"The response was, generally, extremely positive," he said. The savings offered by solar electricity are also an incentive to install a system, he said.

A typical homeowner, paying $80 to $100 a month for electricity, could see a solar power system pay off in about ten years for an initial cost of about $7,000 to $8,000 after rebates and tax credits, said Eubanks. "It's a long-term investment, but it's also a very safe investment," he said. It's not uncommon for solar equipment to last 50 years."

Such a system could save $70 to $100 per month on electricity bills through an arrangement called "net metering," where any extra power produced runs backwards through the meter. Net metering customers can't make a profit off their use of solar, but could break even on their power bills, said Eubanks.

Over 30 years, the use of solar electricity could save tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

"It's a lot of money up front, so it can be scary," he said, but "it's really just a matter of making it easy and accessible for people." Residents interested in participating in the Solar Sebastopol project can contact Eubanks at 523-1479 or brent@ccenergy.com.

 

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