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Sebastopol may require solar arrays on new businesses

Solar panels at Ives Pool in Sebastopol. (PD File)


The city of Sebastopol, which prides itself on being a small community with a big solar energy footprint, will consider requiring photovoltaic arrays on new commercial construction.

“It would be groundbreaking and it could really lead towards something,” said Councilman Patrick Slayter, an architect who is proposing the idea. “The city of Sebastopol and the County of Sonoma have pretty aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals and this is moving towards meeting them.”

If the city adopts Slayter’s proposal, it will be among the first in the nation.

While there are many incentives to solar development in the form of rebates and credits and many renewable energy goals, there are few absolute mandates.

Culver City in Southern California requires solar on very large commercial developments, Hawaii requires solar water heaters on new homes and Japan is considering requiring solar on all new buildings following the Fukushima nuclear facility disaster, according to reports.

Sebastopol is a pioneer in solar energy, said Tom Kimbis, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association and the former director of Solar America, a $4.9 million federal program in which 25 cities, including Sebastopol, developed solar programs.

“It is something that would work for some cities and be inappropriate for other cities that are not as far along the deployment curve,” Kimbis said. “Some cities are just installing their first solar panels. Sebastopol is on the other extreme. It could be a model for other cities their size.”

A solar system on a commercial building could cost $40,000 to $75,000, but with tax incentives and rebates, it could pay for itself in five or six years, Slayter said.

The city already requires contractors to put in solar infrastructure on all new buildings, but the city’s building ordinance stops short of requiring systems be installed. As a matter of practice, however, solar has become commonplace on homes and commercial and public buildings.

There has been 1 megawatt of solar energy developed on homes, businesses and public buildings since 2003, enough electricity to power 500,000 homes.

“I think Sebastopol has the highest per capita of solar anywhere in the country,” said Vice Mayor Michael Kyse, a retired energy consultant. “We partly do it for the environment and we partly do it because it makes sense.”

Making solar a requirement is just the next step, Slayter said.

“If owners are doing it voluntarily and doing it with a tremendous payback, why not make it a requirement,” Slayter said.

Slayter is asking the council to appoint a subcommittee to come up with an ordinance, which would determine how large a project would have to be to trigger a requirement, how big the system would be, whether residential projects would be included and if it would apply to remodeling.

“I don’t want it to be an impediment to builders of small projects, costwise. If it gets to be too expensive, then nothing will happen,” Slayter said.

As a starting point, Slayter is proposing it apply to commercial buildings of 4,000 square feet or by major remodeling of large commercial buildings.

Such a requirement would have applied to the controversial CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch project, which the City Council approved even though it could not convince the developer to include solar.

It would also have applied to the Barlow project, where solar is part of the ongoing construction; the recent Community Church remodeling; and a commercial building that is part of the Hollyhock subdivision.

Since 2003, when it began keeping statistics, there has been 1 megawatt of solar power developed in Sebastopol and other jurisdictions have looked to Sebastopol for guidance, said Glenn Schainblatt, the city’s building official.

From 2007 to 2009, Sebastopol has also been at the top of lists for solar installations and the power generated for small cities, according to a study done by the Northern California Solar Energy Association.

“We have been pretty influential for such a small little town,” Schainblatt said. “People come up here and say that we have solar everywhere.”

The City Council is meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Youth Annex.

10 Responses to “Sebastopol may require solar arrays on new businesses”

  1. Vinyl Rules says:

    Every building constructed henceforth in California that has at least one hour of sun per day should be required to have solar panels. After a short time, it will just be a normal cost of building a new structure. This WILL happen one day. Its only a matter of time. Stop fighting progress tea partiers.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  2. James Bennett says:

    A local government should never be at liberty to impose such a mandate.

    More business sabotage by their close allies at ICLEI.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  3. R.B. Fish says:

    I think this a subversive Republican stratergy. When small business realize that these regulations and requirements to save the world will actually ruin theirs lives and eventually they will turn to the Republican Party to save the day. To create,accumulate and protect wealth so one can give back to the community.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 11

  4. Follower says:

    If the Climate is changing (and it is) doesn’t that mean that the places were the winds blow and the sun shines is also changing?
    This is the one of the MANY dichotomies that exposes the hypocrisy of the liberal lie.

    The Climate is either changing or it isn’t. It’s either changing at an unprecedented rate due to human intervention or it’s changing just like it always has despite human intervention.

    Libs claim that outlawing abortion will lead to otherwise law abiding citizens seeking “back ally abortions”.
    But outlawing guns won’t lead to otherwise law abiding citizens seeking back ally gun dealers.

    How can anyone with even the slightest hint of intellect square these completely opposing views and come away with the idea that “THESE are the people I need telling me, my neighbors, my children and my friends how to live our lives?”

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  5. GAJ says:

    Let’s see, Sebastopol claims to want more small family run businesses, as opposed to deep pocket chain establishments, but then puts in an impediment to small family run businesses??


    Sure, I’ll be putting solar on my house when I get a new roof but that is because I choose to and I can afford it.

    My goal will not be to go off the grid entirely (roof too small) but simply to stay within PG&E’s cheap Tiers One and Tiers Two as the ROI is pretty darned good using the higher Tier Three electricity rates.

    If I couldn’t afford to buy them outright I wouldn’t do it.

    And no, I have no interest in leasing the panels from a provider as that would a stupid financial decision. Just google “is leasing Solar Panels a good idea” and you will see why.

    Debt and leasing are small business killers and that is exactly what this wrong headed idea is.

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  6. What Happens At Night says:

    Maybe this is just that kick start Solyndra needs to give solar another chance to fail.

    Another crazy idea from a little village full of crazy ideas. Another very good reason to build your business in another town.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 2

  7. joe right says:

    Payback in 5-7 years? Sounds more than a little unrealistic.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  8. Western Cluebird says:

    …“If owners are doing it voluntarily and doing it with a tremendous payback, why not make it a requirement,” Slayter said.
    The question should be “WHY make it a requirement?”
    Then he answers his own question:
    “I don’t want it to be an impediment to builders of small projects, costwise. If it gets to be too expensive, then nothing will happen,” Slayter said.

    Stop pushing and mandating,and allow people the freedom to make their own choices.Businesses that still believe in the discredited greenhouse gas/global warming theory can spend the extra bucks, and those that don’t or can’t afford it, will not- end of story!
    (I don’t know many churches with an extra $40-75K sitting around.)
    I say enough with trying to force others into solar investment-we paid for our run down schools to install solar panels and Solyndra is still fresh in our minds.

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  9. Steveguy says:

    Require ? I say require them all to install wind power too, and composting toilets, and NO plastic bags of course.

    Ohh, force them to have their employees use public transit to get to work, and make Earth Day a paid holiday. Don’t forget the bike-share rack out front !

    Ya know what’s really funny ? For this reCaphcta puzzle one word is ” hempEur “.. I think Sebastopol has a few !

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  10. J.R. Wirth says:

    This is shortsighted. We don’t need more power generation. Electricity is a corporate conspiracy to get us to buy appliances we don’t need. If it’s cold put on a hemp sweater. Cooked food is corporate too, everything should be eaten raw. We still need a little electricity for out Apple products. Hopefully Apple will come out with manual crank i-pads soon.

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