Opinion: Green Light

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Moving Forward on Solar Installations

By Tom Osborne

By Tom Osborne

We are all in debt to Tim Hayes of the Environmental Sustainability Committee for urging city hall to act on cutting carbon emissions while simultaneously slashing energy costs. Kudos as well to our city council for recently deciding to follow suit by voting unanimously on February 21 to move forward on councilmember Alex Rounaghi’s motion to install solar panels on selected government properties in town, particularly at the Act V parking lot. Other sites, such as the senior center and St. Catherine’s school, will also be studied and considered. Mayor Bob Whalen thoughtfully added that considering such installations at our fire stations would be a good idea.

I would also say thank you to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Irvine for exemplifying the early solarization of parking structures operated by the local governing bodies and private sector enterprises in Orange County. Every time I drive by that Kaiser facility in our electric car, I think about how wonderful it would be for Mission Hospital in south Laguna, with plenty of glorious sunlight shining down on its large parking structure near my home, to opt for solar panels. Pope Francis has been urging action on addressing climate change. I’ll further digressively note that that parking lot played a somewhat harrowing role in our family’s history, for it was there that my wife and I, on early Sunday mornings, taught our two then teenage sons to drive a car more than two decades ago. 

(Surely there is a statute of limitations protecting us from any parental penalties other than the heart palpitations–to say nothing of my hair loss–these driving lessons exacted from us.) 

Councilmember George Weiss is to be credited for the useful city council recap that landed in my email inbox the night I started writing this column. These recaps are a huge public service for which he deserves our gratitude. 

Among the points Weiss reiterated were the following:

Council “voted to enroll in the SCE [Southern California Edison] Net Energy Metering program.” This would allow city hall to be credited at retail rates for excess electrical power generated by our solar panels. If our city enrolls before April 14, after which the credit would be substantially lowered to a wholesale rate, Laguna Beach would save an estimated $9,597,602 on its electricity bill over the multi-decade lifecycle of the arrangement. When the estimated cost of $3.4 million for installing this system is subtracted from the projected benefit, still a substantial energy savings would result. These figures are sourced to Compass Energy Solutions, with whom city hall contracted for a feasibility study of this matter.

Not only would this enrollment be good for the city’s pocketbook, but it would do wonders for the environment. 

For example, it would “remove about 500 metric tons of carbon over its 20-year lifetime, or the equivalent of 58K gallons of gas consumed. This is also equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 8,600 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.”

Aside from my recap of Councilman Weiss’s recap, I thought Judie Mancuso, a member of the Environmental and Sustainability Committee, made an important point in her public comment urging the city to purchase solar panels from a California manufacturer, thereby keeping the money in our state instead of likely going to China, a leading producer of solar panels.

All in all, our city is on the right track in moving forward on electrification via solar panel installations on its selected public properties. Maybe our school district could investigate taking steps beyond its very early and enlightened installation of solar panels at Top of the World School many decades ago. Just a thought.  

Tom Osborne is an environmental historian who leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby with his wife, Ginger. [email protected]

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