Thursday, April 24, 2014

Agencies share updates on solar

DHS Solar PanelsW

Solar panels in Davis High School's parking lot on 14th Street generate energy for the Davis Joint Unified School District and provide shade for cars parked beneath them. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

Time and again, Yolo County is lauded for its multi-agency, collaborative approach to solving problems.
And things are no different when it comes to climate change.
For six years now, the Climate Change Compact of Yolo County has brought together multiple political jurisdictions to talk on a bimonthly basis about everything from energy efficiency to renewable energy.
The meetings are informal — there is no website, no formal voting — but are valuable nonetheless in the exchange of ideas and information.
“I am not aware of any other county that has brought all its political jurisdictions together to talk on a bimonthly basis about energy efficiency, renewable energy and overall community sustainability and share what each jurisdiction is doing about each of these,” said participant John Mott-Smith.
Supervisor Matt Rexroad of Woodland, who chairs the compact, suggested that just hearing what others have done successfully prods peer jurisdictions to move forward as well.
Friday’s meeting — which marked the sixth anniversary of the compact — focused on solar power and featured representatives from the cities of Davis, West Sacramento and Woodland, as well as the school districts in those three cities. Also on hand were officials from UC Davis, Woodland Community College, the county itself and others.
No two agencies approach solar power the same way, of course, as each brings its own institutional priorities, geographical issues and financial requirements.
Scott Landsberger, assistant superintendent of the Washington Joint Unified School District in West Sacramento, said his district chose to focus on creating solar power before turning to conservation efforts.
There is now a large solar array beside River City High School as well as solar power at a handful of other school sites, including both shade structures and roof mounts.
But one thing the district noticed was that energy usage actually went up after the solar panels were installed, likely because people figured they didn’t need to conserve anymore, Landsberger said.
Now the school district is putting greater focus on reducing consumption by modifying employee behavior.
“It has to start with staff,” he noted.
The Davis Joint Unified School District, on the other hand, focused on energy consumption first.
“We started with conservation and behavioral changes and saw a 30 percent savings,” said Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby.
Then, over the past few years, solar panels went up at three sites — Davis High School, Korematsu Elementary School and Harper Junior High School.
The Davis school district was hampered in some locations by the number of trees in the way as well as concerns of neighbors. It could, for example, have added more solar panels to the DHS parking lot, but that would have required removing more trees — and some people were upset about the trees the district had to remove to begin with.
Solar power, Colby said, “has to fit with the culture of Davis and the culture of trees.”
There is also the issue of aesthetics. Nearby homeowners have expressed displeasure about seeing the solar panels at Korematsu and Harper, Colby said, and he knows of at least one homeowner who sold his house in Lake Alhambra and moved away so he wouldn’t have to look at the panels from his second-story window.
Trees and aesthetics are issues elsewhere as well.
The city of Woodland — aka the City of Trees — is preparing to install solar panels in several locations, said Roberta Childers, the city’s environmental resource analyst, but some of the locations are challenging.
For example, the Woodland Community & Senior Center on East Street has a large parking lot that could accommodate a good number of overhead solar panels that also would provide shade for parking. But installing them will require tree removal and will affect the appearance of the center.
Additionally, the public parking lot at the corner of College and Court streets also would be an ideal place for overhead solar panels that would shade the cars parked beneath. But there, too, Childers said, trees would have to be removed and the aesthetics of the lot would be altered.
Still, the city of Woodland is moving forward with plans that likely will go before the City Council this week and also would include solar panels at the police station, possibly the public library and other locations.
Meanwhile, the city of Davis plans to expand the existing PVUSA installation on County Road 102, increasing its production from one megawatt to 15 megawatts, said the city’s sustainability programs manager, Mitch Sears.
And UC Davis soon will be placing ground-mounted solar panels on the southeast corner of campus, with bids expected next week.
Placing panels over open space or ag land would be an issue elsewhere in the county, noted Assistant County Administrator Dirk Brazil, but is less of an issue when UCD is doing it on its own land.
The county, for example, faced criticism in some quarters for installing ground-mounted solar panels in Grasslands Regional Park south of Davis.
One advantage of ground-mounted panels is cost, said Rob Hutchinson, energy manager for the Woodland Joint Unified School District.
They are the cheapest to install, followed by carports and shade structures, while rooftop-mounted panels are the most expensive and, according to Hutchinson, “not really feasible” financially for his school district.
“I love saving the environment and reducing our usage,” he said. “But my top priority is saving the school district money.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy


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