CITYWIDE — In a recent report from the Environment California Research & Policy Center, a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, California ranked sixth in cumulative solar electricity capacity per capita, providing 75 watts per person.
In terms of total solar electricity capacity, the report said California leads the nation with more than 2.9 gigawatts — more than one-third of the nation’s total.
Santa Monica city officials said adopting solar energy as an alternative energy source has been quick to find root in the city by the sea, an environmentally conscious town, which is trying to rely less on fossil fuels and save money on electricity bills.
Thanks to Solar Santa Monica, an initiative by City Hall that provides support to residents and businesses who are planning on investing in solar, there are a total of 455 solar installations in Santa Monica. The city has 3.6 megawatts of solar capacity installed right now, Matt Henigan, sustainable energy engineer for City Hall, said.
“There’s been a steady interest, and now more and more interest,” Ted Flanigan, executive director of Irvine-based EcoMotion, Inc., a consulting company that manages Solar Santa Monica for City Hall, said.
Solar Santa Monica, which formed seven years ago, has helped put solar installations in homes, businesses, commercial developments and schools. For business owners, Solar Santa Monica officials go out to the business, walk the property and analyze the solar potential and run a financial analysis of using solar energy. It uses a list of vetted contractors who then go out to install the solar equipment. City officials said all of the local public elementary schools have solar installations or projects currently under construction.
City Hall is trying to make it easier for interested homeowners or businesses to use solar energy. Henigan said permits for solar projects are expedited and go to the front of the permit process line. He said permit fees are also waived.
“We’ve done a lot of the groundwork to make it as easy and quick as possible and remove any of the barriers the city may have represented in the past,” Henigan said.
City Hall also worked in conjunction with the Santa Monica Fire Department to streamline the inspection process to make sure the contractors, homeowners or business owners are aware of the requirements.
Some of the requirements include access, a pathway, smoke ventilation and roof access in case of emergencies.
Flanigan said savings depend on how big the installed solar system is, but savings aren’t seen right away.
“What we’ve done in Santa Monica is you cover the annual consumption of the house or business. Instead of paying the utility at that point, you’re paying off your system,” Flanigan said. “Usually, you’re not saving money in the first year. After 12 years, you have free power for another 20 or 30 years. Your savings are coming after those years.”
Officials said the cost of solar has dropped 30 percent for residential systems in recent times. For example, Herb Mendelsohn, vice president of sales and marketing for PermaCity, Inc., a company that’s contracted with City Hall to install solar panels in Santa Monica, said a year ago it cost $30,000 to install solar in homes, and now it’s $20,000.
Mendelsohn said there are good leasing or financing options for homeowners while businesses have tax credits as an incentive to install solar panels.
Ted Winterer, who sits on the City Council, said he would see a return on his investment from using solar thermal panels, which heat cold water, and photovoltaic panels, which generate electricity years from now. He installed the solar thermal panels in 2009 and the electric panels the following year. He said the solar panels supply hot water for washing dishes and bathing and during the winter, heats the floors of the house.
“Renewable energy is the way to go,” Winterer said. “We live in a place with a lot of abundant sunshine.”
Henigan said he sees the growth of solar leases on the horizon that will completely change the solar energy industry.
“A lot of folks, who have thought about solar in the past and thought it was too expensive, are now back in the market and can take advantage of it,” Henigan said. “When you can really speak to someone on your block who’s done it and has benefited I think it gathers momentum that way.”