By Peg Champion, GreenTown Correspondent
Residents of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are one step closer to affordable solar power. In January, GreenTown joined three other San Mateo County cities – Hillsborough, Portola Valley and Woodside – in SunShares, an innovative group-buy program. The program, sponsored by Bay Area Climate Collaborative (BACC), helps communities in the Bay Area advance their sustainability goals.
“This program will help you reduce utility bills, increase home comfort and generate clean energy,” says Kevin Armstrong, technical advisor at GroupEnergy, the administrator for the program. “In addition to the great group discounts on solar, there are significant savings available – up to $4,000 – through energy-efficiency rebates from Energy Upgrade California.” The federal energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available through 2016, provides tax credits for up to 30 percent of the total system cost.
Sharing with Others – the Group-Buy Model
GreenTown Program Manager Gary Hedden says that the new program not only delivers savings 15 percent lower than current market rates, it also eliminates customer confusion in the complex bid-evaluation process. In the process, a resident is often forced to compare “apples to oranges” in terms of installation, length of contract, pricing, etc. “We’ve taken care of a crucial first step for anyone interested in solar. SunShares issued a Request for Proposal and, on March 12, completed the difficult process of vetting and selecting providers from among seven solar and two energy-upgrade companies.”
The SunShares evaluation committee chose REC Solar for the solar installations and SDI Insulation for energy-saving upgrades. REC Solar will offer discounted pricing, as well as a solar lease/power purchase agreement (PPA), which enables homeowners to install solar with little or no money down and to see immediate savings on their utility bill. SDI Insulation is an approved PG&E contractor in the Energy Upgrade California program.
Solar System Savings
Hedden says residents with energy bills averaging $100 or more per month can save money using a solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Here’s how it works: PV systems generate electricity during the day, when demand throughout PG&E’s territory is the greatest. Any excess power generated by your PV system is sent to the utility grid. Your utility meter tracks how much electricity you take and how much your system gives to the grid. Excess generation earns you credits from your utility company, a process known as net energy metering. By installing a PV system, you’re contributing to a cleaner, greener and more efficient distributed energy grid.
“Collaborating with BACC SunShares on this effort is an important part of GreenTown Los Altos’s ongoing Energy Savers Program, which provides information and online assessments to reduce home energy use and increase renewable energy,” says GreenTown Los Altos Chair Margie Suozzo. “We are pleased to participate in this new collaborative effort to expand solar energy in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.”
For more details on how BACC SunShares can help you reduce your electric bill – and your carbon footprint – email energy@GreenTownLosAltos.org or come to the workshop Wednesday, March 21, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at 359 State St.
Peg Champion is a member of GreenTown Los Altos and the principal of Champion Organic Communications. Her work focuses on communication and education strategies to encourage sustainable behavior.