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San Diego leads California in solar installations

2,262 roofs can generate 19.4 megawatts of electricity
By Mike Lee, Union-Tribune Staff Writer, San Diego , July 16, 2009
Source: San Diego Tribune

The sun might seem to shine a little brighter in San Diego today with the release of an independent analysis that shows the city has the most solar roofs and greatest solar-power capacity in place statewide.  The nonprofit group Environment California ranked San Diego tops in its “California’s Solar Cities” report, ahead of Los Angeles, a much larger city, and San Francisco, which has a reputation for all things green.

Ten years ago, San Diego wasn’t among the Top 10 solar cities. “San Diego has just basically woken up to its potential,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, the report’s author.  The city has 2,262 solar roofs that together can generate 19.4 megawatts of electricity – roughly equivalent to the power used by 12,000 homes.

Del Chiaro and San Diego officials said the city’s solar success is driven by factors such as:
the Kearny Mesa headquarters for the California Center for Sustainable Energy, which promotes solar power through government rebates and other means  lots of sunshine and City Hall’s fast-track permitting for solar projects.

San Diego’s ranking didn’t surprise Tom Blair, the city’s energy czar. He said local efforts to increase use of solar power ramped up after the energy crisis at the beginning of this decade.  “In 2001, we have a chart that shows there were basically no (solar power) installs,” Blair said. “And you can see how the graph just climbs dramatically. In the last couple of years, the installs have gone astronomical.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders is trying to maintain the momentum by allowing residents to obtain loans for installing solar panels, then pay them off over 20 years through their property tax bills. The pilot program is expected to launch in the fall with about 500 participants.  And today, San Diego and the sustainable energy center will unveil an online mapping tool that will allow residents to view details about solar installations countywide and assess the solar potential for homes in certain neighborhoods.

“The goal is to get the whole community involved and have everyone sharing information,” said Kevin Murphy of CH2M Hill, which helped create the San Diego Solar Map.  City officials hope the interactive display, federal tax incentives and other measures will spur more residents to install solar panels despite the struggling economy.  The statewide target set by the Legislature is 1 million solar roofs by 2017. So far, nearly 50,000 rooftop solar power systems dot California, up from 521 a decade ago, according to today’s report.

The benchmark might seem lofty, but solar advocates said the falling price of generating solar power makes it realistic. Solar power costs could drop by half by 2017 and make the energy source comparable to conventional ways of generating electricity, according to Environment California. “Our (solar) market has been growing by roughly 50 percent compounded annually,” Del Chiaro said. “If we maintain our annual growth rate, we will hit the million solar roofs goal.”

Environment California’s analysis was based on data from agencies such as the Public Utilities Commission and power providers. Del Chiaro was encouraged by developments such as the increased use of solar power in the Central Valley.  “It is no longer limited to typically liberal, coastal areas like San Francisco and Santa Cruz,” she said. “It is moving inland. Farmers are catching on. Suburban dwellers are catching on.”

San Diego has more rooftop solar panels than any other city in the state.
San Diego 2,262
Los Angeles 1,388
San Francisco 1,350
San Jose 1,333
Fresno 1,028
Bakersfield 751
Clovis 733
Santa Rosa 725
Sacramento 692
Berkeley 648
Source: Environment California