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Healdsburg weighs solar cooperative

Residents could buy into power generation, curbing costs and emissions


When it comes to solar power panels, some homeowners want them, but other things interfere.

Perhaps trees create too much shade, the location isn’t ideal, or the paperwork and costs appear daunting.

“I live next to a golf course,” said Healdsburg Councilman Jim Wood, whose house is regularly struck by errant balls.

“To have an expensive (solar) array destroyed by golf balls isn’t very appealing,” he said.

That’s where an innovative proposal comes in: A “solar farm” for Healdsburg in which residents and businesses could buy into a cooperative solar installation.

This would enable all residents, including renters, to buy into what would be greener and presumably cheaper electricity.
It would augment the power that customers would continue to get from their utility.

“The time is right to look at this again in earnest,” Wood said of the solar farm concept, which was brought up a couple years ago. It was revived at the most recent meeting of Healdsburg’s Green City committee, which helps promote environmentally sound practices.

“The concept of a solar farm is having a large piece of property where we could have a ground solar array,” Wood said. “People could purchase into it, like a cooperative. They could benefit with the electricity generated from their portion of solar ultimately applied to their electric bill.”

Wood and other members of the Green City committee who are promoting the idea acknowledge there are a number of details to be worked out. Those include location and size of the solar farm, financing and how ratepayers who buy into it would be credited by Healdsburg’s city-run electric utility.

But proponents believe it can work and enough people will go for the idea to make it feasible.

“This is coming because it makes sense,” said Rody Jonas, a member of the Green City Committee and owner of Pure Power Solutions, a solar company. “I think it would be a valuable alternative for a lot of people.”

The electricity generated by the solar panels would not go to the individual owners, but into the city-wide system for distribution.

The solar farm would help generate “clean power at peak usage times and would help us not to have to purchase power on the spot market, which is much more expensive,” Wood said.

The idea is not for the city or its utility to build the solar farm.

“The city utility is not in the business of building power plants of any sort. They deliver electricity,” said Jim Brush, a former planning commissioner and accountant who also is on the Green City committee.

He said the facility could be built by someone in the solar business that sells large arrays.

In other parts of the country solar farms, or solar gardens as they are sometimes called, are often utility-owned, with panels leased to individual customers who receive a credit on their electric bill. In other instances, customers own particular physical panels, and the array is managed by a third party, for-profit company.

Proponents of the Healdsburg solar farm said there is an economy of scale, as well as rebates, tax credits and government programs available that could help ease costs.

Solar panels also have gotten less expensive. And solar power is considered a hedge against the escalating costs of electricity generated by other means.

Backers have looked at several potential locations, including city-owned land near the wastewater treatment plant.
“It has to be a certain size to make it feasible and a mechanism that could measure electric output and apply it to people’s utility bills,” Wood said.

Brush estimated it could cost in the neighborhood of $2.5 million to lease or acquire land, build the solar farm, and get permits and environmental clearance. He said about 5 percent of Healdsburg’s utility customers might buy into it.

Brush is “cautiously optimistic” the solar farm will become a reality in as little as a year or two.

“Would people buy into this? We think the answer is ‘yes,’” Brush said. “We know it can be built. The details need to be finalized.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

9 Responses to “Healdsburg weighs solar cooperative”

  1. Kay Tokerud says:

    Having the owner of a private solar firm on the committee that’s making the decisions was the thing that struck me. This is what’s wrong with public/private partnerships, private interests are unduly influencing our elected officials and usually this leads to no-bid contracts being awarded. The citizens are left out of the process.

    The extremely costly and inefficient solar arrays to be installed must be subsidized by the ratepayers and the taxpayers. Is this what we should be doing right now, when our whole country is in economic crisis? This further damages our competitiveness on the global marketplace whenever we waste money on over-priced energy production. As China moves forward rapidly at our expense (trade deficit) we continue to fall behind by doing wasteful projects like this.

    The Chinese government officials must think it’s extremely amusing to see the Americans following the ICLEI plan of drastic reductions in our energy usage to save the planet. They are making the solar panels in China and then shipping them to us on diesel-powered ships. I wonder if there’s any net carbon reduction with this arrangement. Even those who buy into the man-made global warming hype should see that this will not do a thing to stave off supposed global warming. Make work projects like this may provide some temporary employment but in the long run will mean higher energy prices for everyone.

    While the Chinese get off their bikes and into cars, we are getting out of our cars and onto bikes. What’s wrong with this picture?

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  2. Mirror Mirror says:

    you wrote “Only after the next revolution, not Tea Party, not the Progressives, those of us stuck between BOTH the greeds that have ruined our society.”
    I have agreed with some of your posts before, but take issue with your recent bashing of the Tea party, and your calls for a revolution.
    You keep repeating this line, and I find it sad that you have bought the media hype about the Tea party attendees.
    We are average American citizens, not greedy selfish political hacks. If you had ever gone to a Tea party you would know that. Most of us have never been involved in politics before, but knew our country was in trouble and felt compelled to do something. We are democrats, independants, republicans and any other party, color or persuasion that wants to come to an event, or get involved.We are not calling for a revolution, as that would lead to chaos and play into the hands of those who thrive on chaos.
    I have met the most generous and thoughtful people I know through the grass roots movement known as the Tea party.There will always be a few people that are a bit out there or are power hungry in any crowd, but I have found they are the minority in the Tea party groups.Our main goal is to stop out of control government spending and runaway taxation.

    Please reconsider your negative judgement of patriotic Americans no longer willing to sit by and watch their country being destroyed.

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  3. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Another ‘public-private partnership’?

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  4. Steveguy says:

    What a waste of good money after bad.

    For ‘green, clean, and cheap’ power, it would probably do better to look into the potential of hydro-electric from Warm Springs Dam.

    I don’t know why that hydro-power wasn’t built in, must have been the lawsuits from Marin County that delayed it so much that it was taken out.

    Onwards to bankruptcy by dubious projects. Can we ever get back to governing responsibly instead of politically and by the well connected that benefit from inside ‘contacts’ and consultancies ?? When do we wake up to the FRAUD ?????

    Only after the next revolution, not Tea Party, not the Progressives, those of us stuck between BOTH the greeds that have ruined our society.

    For shame voters, as you will vote the SAME CROOKS back into office. They tell you so, because they say so and that is that.

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  5. Luke Warm says:

    This will cost $2.5 million to light a few light bulbs in Healdsburg. For the 563 residents, 5 percent of the population of Healdsburg, that works out to a cost of about $44,405 per resident for the dream of a solar farm cooperative.

    What are they going to do on cloudy days or at night?

    Can anyone do the math in Healdsburg or is this just one of those silly ideas put on the table to laugh at? There is no such thing as free energy, a green economy or clean energy. Who is going to clean, repair and maintain those solar panels?

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  6. Greg House says:

    If Obama visits Healdsburg, you know it’s doomed to fail. What happens when the sun doesn’t shine? Who can pay 20 years of PG&E bills up front just to “make sense?” Who does the maintenance? What is the useful life of the panels? What happens when our local gang bangers graffiti the panels?

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  7. On the Road to Recovery says:

    Just another one of those feel good greenee projects. Totally not cost effective but it makes a few liberals feel good. Isn’t it great Healdsburg has this amount of tax money and our money to throw away on a boondoggle?

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  8. brown act jack says:

    Do you expect a Green committee that has solar business owners on it to do anything but recommend that solar power be used.?

    If it was a good business that made a good profit then business would build it !

    No Solar power is cheaper than PG and E charges.

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  9. jj says:

    One of dumbest idea’s Healdsburg has had! 2.5mil. on 5% of the residence??

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

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