San Francisco Likely to Vote on Major Solar Initiative

Residents of San Francisco may vote this November on a proposal to spend up to $120 million to install solar panels on city-owned buildings. Eight of the eleven members of the city’s Board of Supervisors, along with the mayor, support the idea of placing the proposed bond measure on the ballot later this year. The proposal is to raise $50 to $120 million to install solar panels on hundreds of civic buildings.

SAN FRANCISCO, California, US, 2001-03-21 <SolarAccess.com> A resolution from the Commission on the Environment urges the city and the county of San Francisco to craft a solar power bond for consideration on the November ballot. If approved, the bonds would raise the money to fund solar energy technology that would generate electricity from solar photovoltaic panels and heat water from solar thermal collectors, for public buildings. The resolution references the scientific data which support the threat of global warming, adding that “the single biggest contributor to global warming is pollution from coal and oil fired power plants.” On Earth Day in 1999, Mayor Willie Brown designated the reduction of global warming greenhouse gases as one of his administration’s priorities, and the Sustainability Plan for San Francisco “establishes a goal of maintaining an energy supply based on renewable, environmentally sound resources and eliminating climate-changing and ozone-depleting emissions.” “Natural gas is a known contributor to global warming and diesel particulate matter was declared to be a Toxic Air Contaminant,” while diesel has been listed as a known carcinogen under California law since 1990. The energy crisis in the state has resulted in the use of diesel backup generators during electricity shortages, and the resolution says the increased use of diesel backup generators would adversely affect San Francisco’s air quality and public health. “California’s energy crisis has made it necessary to rethink the way in which San Francisco gets its electricity” and “because of our technology-based economy and the population growth in the Bay Area, San Francisco is more dependent on electricity than ever before.” It notes that the earthquake-prone city is particularly vulnerable to grid failures and “solar energy offers a clean, reliable, silent way to produce electricity that will help make our energy supply more secure while protecting our air quality and environment.” “The potential for solar power generation in San Francisco is enormous and could lead San Francisco to electric self sufficiency, and whereas solar energy systems are remarkably durable as evidenced by the fact that the first solar arrays installed 40 years ago are still in operation,” it explains. “Solar energy systems generate electricity at the source where it is consumed and would provide power even if the electrical grid fails” and “solar water heating in public buildings would reduce the City’s dependence on natural gas, thereby further reducing San Francisco’s contribution to global warming and air pollution.” If the bond measure is placed on the ballot in November and approved, the project would meet almost half of the power need for the municipal government. The amount of bonds to be issued depends on logistical details, says an aide to Mayor Brown, including the issue of whether the city uses revenue or general obligation bonds. The former needs a simple majority of approval, while the latter needs a majority of two thirds. The board of supervisors and mayor must approve the measure by late July to have it placed on the ballot on November 6. Most of the electricity in San Francisco is generated from hydroelectric facilities. The PV panels would be placed on the city’s 700 municipal buildings and around its 17 reservoirs. The solar installations would generate between 17 and 40 MW/h of power during peak periods, say officials. The municipal government uses 100 to 125 MW/h. California is considering legislation to extend a 30 percent rebate for residential PV installations to include non-residential systems. The bill would also raise the capacity for systems to be eligible for net metering, from 10 kW to 1 MW. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District estimates that 750 PV systems are installed in its territory, generating 8 MW/h. “California ought to be as energy self-sufficient as possible, but doesn’t give us an excuse to throw environmental concerns aside and start building polluting power plants,” says Commission president Randall Hayes, who sponsored the resolution in February. “We can meet our electricity needs while still protecting the quality of the air we breathe by developing non-polluting renewable power sources like solar energy, and San Francisco should lead the state in this effort.”

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