Solar News

Solar Sebastopol wins grant to expand countywide - December 19, 2007

Sebastopol, CA – Solar Sebastopol has received a $73,000 grant to expand its community solar energy program to a countywide effort to be called Solar Sonoma County. On December 19, 2007, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors awarded $3 million in Climate Protection Grants to San Francisco Bay Area local governments and nonprofits for implementation of innovative projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar Sonoma County (SSC) is envisioned as a regional program, modeled after the highly successful Solar Sebastopol program, to promote and stimulate the generation of clean, renewable, cost-effective solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal energy to supply more of Sonoma County’s energy needs. SSC will support the Sonoma County Supervisors’ and the County’s nine cities’ commitments to their aggressive 2015 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by developing a countywide solar implementation plan with elements to encourage and facilitate widespread adoption of solar energy for building related public, commercial, industrial, and residential electricity, addressing a major source of carbon emissions in this county.

“This is a phenomenal step forward toward a more sustainable future for Sonoma County that was born right here in Sebastopol,” says Sebastopol Mayor Craig Litwin. “Solar Sebastopol began in 2002 in partnership with students from Sonoma State University. This award provides the financial support for successfully linking up with other communities to expand the use of clean, renewable solar energy on a regional level.”

The Solar Sonoma County grant proposal ranked fifth overall out of more than 80 funding applications submitted. The Air District originally planned to award $1.5 million in funds but raised the total award amount due to the overwhelming response as evidence of the tremendous interest in pursuing climate protection and the need for this type of funding. The agency “was impressed by response to this grant program, the high level of creativity and innovation in the applications, and the demonstration of leadership our region is providing for the rest of the country,” according to the Air District announcement.

Solar Sonoma County objectives as outlined in the Air District grant proposal include:
· Addressing the cost barriers for municipal and residential solar through development of or partnership with a scalable, replicable market-based financing model.
· Providing a central clearinghouse for local government policies and best practices to encourage solar installation.
· Encouraging energy efficiency and conservation measures to reduced overall electricity demand.
· Conducting an ongoing public education and marketing campaign to promote solar energy.

SSC will seek the direct involvement of all of Sonoma County’s cities, the County Government, solar industry stakeholders, and other interested business, organizations, and individuals as part of a membership organization that collectively will determine the overarching vision, refine program goals, and develop and direct specific projects. The California Energy Commission, Senator Pat Wiggins, Assemblymember Patty Berg, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the Green Energy Loan program support SSC.

In November, an ad hoc group of representatives from numerous municipalities in Sonoma County, solar energy companies, labor groups, and Pacific Gas & Electric began meeting and formed an SSC Steering Committee to move forward with a countywide solar effort.

About Solar Sebastopol

Established in 2002, Solar Sebastopol is a local first-of-its-kind program to encourage more solar energy on residential, business, and public properties in Sebastopol. The program’s is to install 1 megawatt of solar power production in Sebastopol, equivalent to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on about 500 average-size homes. From the outset, Solar Sebastopol garnered national and international media attention as the first community solar program of its kind. The program has served as a model of innovation for smaller communities that initially were looking for ways to increase local control over energy costs

As of July 2007, Sebastopol has installed 400,000 watts (400 kW) of solar within city limits, or 40% of the 1-megawatt (1,000 kW) goal, with 105.5 kW installed on City of Sebastopol properties. This year the City of Sebastopol received three awards from the NorCal Solar Energy Association in 2007 for installing more PV watts per capita than other small communities in the greater Bay Area. More than 1.4 Megawatts of solar PV has been installed in the greater Sebastopol area.

Download this Bay Area Air Quality Management District Grant press release as a PDF

Sebastopol City Hall Goes Solar

The City of Sebastopol has officially converted its City Hall building to a grid-tied solar power system. The new 10.6kW solar system is expected to annually generate 18,520kWh (kilowatt hours), which will meet 97% of the building’s current electrical needs.

The roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) system produces electricity whenever the sun is shining, transferring any excess production to the grid for credit, and using grid-supplied electricity at night or on cloudy days. In its first month of production (July/August 2007), the City only needed to buy one kWh of grid power, or 0.07% of its pre-solar average monthly requirement. The City is also working on reducing its electrical demand through increased energy efficiency, particularly in its HVAC system. (Above: City manager Dave Brennan and Mayor Sam Pierce examine the new inverters.)

“The installation of solar on City Hall is one of many steps Sebastopol is taking towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Sam Pierce, Mayor of Sebastopol. “The City is shifting our energy source from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

The system is expected keep 14 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually, which is the equivalent of growing 2.87 acres of trees.

Solar Sebastopol member, Solar Works of Sebastopol designed and installed the system, which consists of 56 SunPower(R) 215-watt modules and two SMA Sunnyboy(R) inverters. “The City’s goal was to do a nearly 100% emissions offset,” says John Parry, owner of Solar Works. “But City Hall has limited roof space. So we used our high-watt-density SunPower panels to make the City’s goal possible.”

Sebastopol took advantage of current California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate, which funded approximately 33% of the system’s cost, bringing the final price to $59,647.

Solar Sebastopol on KRCB public radio:

August 1, 2007 - Bruce Robinson interviews Marty Roberts, Sebastopol Mayor Sam Pierce and Liz Merry from NorCal Solar for the North Bay Report on KRCB public radio. If the player above won't work for you, try this link.

Solar Rebates Analyzed for Small Systems in Bay Area
Over 5,000 projects total nearly 18 megawatts

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA - August 14, 2006 – NorCal Solar Energy Association has recently completed analyzing and summarizing the California Energy Commissions (CEC) solar rebate data for completed systems in the Bay Area under 15 kilowatts through May, 2006. Total small solar projects, kilowatts, and cost were tabulated for each city in seven Bay Area counties, and then averages were computed for the key data. The 5,054 total projects totaled 17,995 kilowatts of generating capacity at a total installed pre-rebate cost of $172 million. The average size was 3.5 kilowatts and the average total installed pre-rebate cost was $33,789. Approximately 15 watts of solar-generating capacity was installed for each of the approximate 5.4 million citizens of the Bay Area.

San Francisco had the most residential solar projects at 383, but San Jose had the most residential solar capacity at 1.38 megawatts. Santa Clara County led the other six counties with 1,130 total residential solar projects providing 4.49 megawatts of solar capacity. For cities with populations greater than 50,000, San Rafael topped the list with 9.47 installed solar watts per capita. (Note: Petaluma was #4 and Santa Rosa was #5.) For cities between 5,000 and 50,000 in population, Sebastopol’s 130 watts was over 3 times the solar watts per capita as second place Sonoma. Livermore came in first for lowest cost per watt for larger cities at $8.98. A list of the Top 10 cities for installed solar watts per capita and cost-per-watt is posted on NorCal Solar’s website:

Excel spreadsheets with ranked and summarized data for 104 cities and 7 counties may also be downloaded.

The Energy Commission provides comprehensive data about the Emerging Renewables Program incentives through their website periodically, and their renewables staff was very helpful in the effort to present the incentive data in a useful format. “We are always interested in finding ways to help encourage the use of solar technology,” stated Drake Johnson, Renewables Program Manager.

“With new solar rebate programs slated for 2007, it is critical that we have accurate accounting of our progress in California and to create competition between our cities and regions, says Bill LaCommare, Project Manager. We’ve got a long ways to go to get to 1 million solar roofs, and we all need to work diligently and cooperatively to increase California’s solar output while at the same time reducing the associated costs.”

“We want this information to help people to understand how much solar is currently being used, and to infuse a sense of competition among Bay Area Cities," stated Liz Merry, NorCal Solar Executive Director, "Every City should have a target goal for solar energy production. For instance, in Richmond they have recently set a 5 megawatt goal, and they will produce a Solar Home Tour in October to encourage solar installations.”

About CEC Emerging Renewables Program

Following deregulation of the electric utilities in 1998, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has been offering cash rebates on eligible grid-connected solar PV generating systems under 30 kilowatts through its Emerging Renewables Program (ERP). Through July, 2006, the ERP has provided approximately $283 million in funding for a total of 19,350 installed renewable energy systems representing 81 megawatts of installed renewable energy capacity. Effective July 1, 2006, the rebate is $2.60/watt.

About California Solar Initiative

In January 2006, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) created the California Solar Initiative (CPUC ruling - R.04-03-017) with the goal of installing 3,000 megawatts of solar electric (PV) power on the equivalent of a million roofs by 2017. This new incentive program, for renewable systems of less than one megawatt, begins in January 2007 and is projected to provide a total of $2.9 billion over ten years.

About NorCal Solar Energy Association

NorCal Solar Energy Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) education group formed in 1975 to promote the use of solar energy technology through the exchange of information. We provide independent, non-commercial educational information about the benefits of solar technology through our programs, which include the National Solar Tour, publication of a Solar Energy Resource Guide and monthly electronic newsletter, and an in-depth website at

NorCal Solar Contact:
Liz Merry
Executive Director, NorCal Solar
August 14, 2006


Good news: SB 1, California’s Million Solar Roofs bill, was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger August 21. For those new to the story, this bill--which some have called humankind’s last, best hope for fighting global warming and surviving as a species--failed to pass out of the Legislature three years running, until the California Public Utilities Commission enacted the meat of the measure--$3.2 billion in rebates for 1 million solar roofs—through a regulatory process last January.

Complete text of bill: click here