Residents could buy into power generation, curbing costs and emissions
By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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 email@example.com.