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City seeks greener power

By Neil G. Greene Special to the Daily Planet
Monday June 03, 2002




Berkeley leaders are taking the adage “being green” to the next level. The city plans to start sapping the sun's free and clean energy with planned implementation of solar panels atop the downtown Public Safety Building in 2004. 

Having already made city facilities more energy-efficient, going solar will help the city meet its stated goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent by 2010. 

"Converting municipal buildings to solar fits right in with everything we're doing," said Councilmember Linda Maio, who authored the recent proposal to use solar energy. "It's the cleanest and best renewable energy source there is. It would be so wonderful to convert to solar power.” 

Approximately 12 percent of the electricity generated in California comes from renewable resources. At one time, Californians had direct access to renewable energy, meaning they had the option of purchasing electricity from companies that guaranteed that half the power came from renewable energy—including solar power, wind power and geothermal heat. 

Since that option has not been available to consumers since the energy crisis in 2000, Berkeley leaders are now embracing their green momentum and taking measures into their own hands. 

While it was originally believed that the best solar project would include placing photovoltaic panels on the roofs of several city buildings, recent city research has revealed that a one-step-at-a-time approach will save time, money and energy in the long run. 

"Our research is showing that if we do several small projects, we'll pay more. So in order to make this cost effective we want to concentrate on one building," said Energy Planner Neal De Snoo, who said the Public Safety Building was selected because of its high level of energy consumption and the large size of its new roof. 

The project's first stage includes determining engineering specifications, taking the project to bid, selecting a contractor and solar voltaic panels and connecting the solar source to the broader electricity grid. The panels will tie into the building's main electrical supply, so when the amount of energy harnessed exceeds the amount consumed by the building, the energy usage dial will spin backwards, creating a net reduction in the amount of energy purchased from PG&E. 

The panels will be hidden from the view of pedestrians, lying flat on the roof of the building. They are designed by Berkeley-based PowerLight Corp., a brand currently used by Whole Foods. Most other makes of panels tilt upwards to face midrange spring and autumn sun exposure and are more visible. 

Funding issues surrounding the solar panel project will be included in next years' budget hearing which will go before the City Council early this month. The solar project will be phased in over two years, combining the budget for two fiscal years into one pool of money. Next year's funds will be allocated towards design and engineering work, with the actual placement of the panels coming once the 2004 funds are available. 

"We've gone pretty far in energy conservation and efficiency. It can be done quite easily and we’re doing that," said De Snoo. "So the next phase is to go to the next level of generating our own energy."  

Going solar is just one step in the city’s effort to step a little more softly. The energy retrofitting of city-owned buildings has saved tax payers $370,000 and more than 2.1 million kilowatt hours of electricity and has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 1,200 tons, according to city officials. 

This was accomplished by removing incandescent lamps and installing compact fluorescent bulbs, replacing inefficient lamps with new lamps and electronic ballasts, installing occupancy sensors to turn off lights, upgrading heating and ventilation systems and improving building control systems.  

Similar upgrades are available to city businesses through the city's energy office, which offers free energy audits and provides financial assistance for projects under the Small Commercial Technical Assistance Program.  

Black Oak Books began the city's program eight months ago and has seen their utility bills drop by 35 percent, saving them hundreds of dollars, according to bookstore employees.