So you say you want solar? Here's how it could work

Cities and counties in California's San Joaquin Valley want relief from crippling energy bills.

Like the rest of the nation, they’ve been hit hard by a sinking economy and increasing electric rates. At least the tornadoes, flooding and general havoc from winter storms left them alone.

An option looking increasingly bright is solar. But it’s a complex decision and not one that should be made without learning as much as possible.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization has a draft plan to explain solar options to cities, counties and school districts and help them save the most energy and money. The concept is one I've been thinking about for several months.

Of course, it's something on the drawing board. We're a small nonprofit without the ability to launch such ambitious project without funding. Tracking down some money will be my next step.

My thought is the utilities may like the idea since they need to draw a third of their energy from renewable resources by 2020. And solar companies may also like the idea. Perhaps we could put a consortium together and offer discounts for packaged projects.

Who knows?

It's working title is the Valley Solar Solutions Project, and it would involve creating an inventory of sites, assessing needs and determining what size solar facility would offset power costs based on a 12-month analysis of energy usage.

In my dealings with officials administering American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants, most just want the facts on solar: How much does it cost? Where would an array go? And how much does it save?

During a visit to a small city near Modesto, officials said just one of their water pumps consumes about $56,000 worth of electricity in a peak month. During the summer, the pump runs 24 hours a day to supply thirsty residents. A solar array at that pump could put a big dent into that electrical draw.

Under this proposal, staff would provide answers to dilemmas like that, whether the question is about how much power is generated by 40 acres of solar panels at a waste water treatment plant or eight solar cells at a remote well.

In recent months, and I don't know why, perhaps it's oil prices, cities and counties increasingly have been asking SJVCEO staff about solar. What would it take to install? What about financing? What subsidies are available? Can we put it on the jail?

Sometimes answers can be a little murky. Big projects are tough and often require navigating a lot of government red tape. Smaller projects, such as those on a building, are easier.

Were we able to get this Valley Solar Solutions Project off the ground, staff would:

1) Provide a detailed list of the steps involved in getting regulatory approval and estimate the time and effort required for a project to be completed.
2) Identify sites – such as buildings, plants and energy-hungry pumps – that could benefit from solar installations.
3) Calculate the number of solar panels needed for each site and estimate installation costs.
4) Provide estimated energy savings in kilowatt hours and dollars of purchase, lease or power-purchase agreements.
5) Provide case studies of how other jurisdictions have adopted solar into their power mix.
5) Issue a detailed report of options.

This model also could be applied to agriculture. Staff could inventory farms, assess energy needs and provide available options.

Does the idea have merit? Leave a comment or contact me at