Summer solar campaign nets San Carlos residents

Locals will soon be putting the sun to work after signing up this summer to install solar panels on their homes.

The two-month campaign, led by Solar City and San Carlos Green, netted 18 participating homeowners who applied for solar-power systems. The installations will provide local residents with a 15 to 20 percent discount and reduce the city’s electricity usage by 63 kilowatts.

One resident, Ray Brand, is spending $16,000 on a system for his 1,550-square-foot Porto Marino Drive home. At full price, solar panels can cost $25,000 to $30,000, according to Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City, a Foster City-based company that has led similar campaigns in Portola Valley and Mountain View.

“Our electricity bill will go down to virtually zero. We don’t heat a pool or anything like that — our bill is $75 to $80 a month, so for us it’s primarily a green decision,” Brand said.

Throughout San Carlos and other Peninsula communities where solar-panel campaigns have been successful, it is usually the more green-friendly homeowners who are first to sign up, Rive said.

It can be a challenge, however, to provide the financial incentives for those who have been considering energy-saving panels but balked at the costs involved.

“Those who are on the fence because of the financial outlay — this makes the fence a lot smaller,” Rive said. “The largest challenge we face is education; letting people know that solar is a true alternative that’s clean and cost-effective.”

The campaign, waged this summer from July to August, yielded nearly as many new solar-power system sign-ups as the 25 that were built in San Carlos during all of 2006, Rive said.

One move that may have helped stimulate local interest in solar panels was the San Carlos City Council’s decision in March 2006 to waive the city fees associated with photovoltaic installations, which dropped from $922 per system to zero, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

Solar City is also running solar campaigns in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Berkeley, Rockridge and in the area surrounding Stanford University in Palo Alto.

In the past year, people’s willingness to make lifestyle changes to protect the environment has taken on a new urgency, said Ann Iverson, co-founder of San Carlos Green, which launched this year.

“There have been attempts to get environmental issues moving, but people get burned out,” Iverson said. “Now there is momentum, at a big level, across the Peninsula, and we’re hoping that momentum is going to help this time.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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