Environment California

Solar: Finally, Fresno reaches the top of a positive list

Fresno ranks fourth in solar capacity in California, according to a survey released this week.

"California Solar Cities 2012," a report compiled by Environment California. Taking the No. 1 spot in capacity is San Diego with 37 megawatts, followed by Los Angeles with 36 megawatts and San Jose with 31 megawatts. Fresno has 22 megawatts and San Francisco 17 megawatts.

The ranking remains the same for the top three in terms of number of installations with Fresno and San Francisco swapping places and Fresno landing in the No. 5 spot with 2,146.

"California has just begun to tap into the vast potential of solar energy," the report's authors write. "Governments, utilities and the public should continue to work together toward a clean energy future."

Many believe the cost of solar power will reach parity with fossil fuels in the next few years. Some studies say that point already has been reached because of declining materials costs.

In a interview with Bloomberg TV, the chief executive of Suntech Power Holdings Co., considered the world's largest photovoltaic panel maker, says the cost of generating electricity from the sun will compete with conventional power by 2015.

“Solar is getting so cheap,” Zhengrong Shi, Suntech CEO, says. “We believe by 2015, there will be around 50 percent of countries that reach grid-parity.”

The San Joaquin Valley is uniquely positioned to be a solar powerhouse with its available land, existing electrical grid and ready work force. Its potential has led researchers at University of California Merced to call it Solar Valley.

Fresno usually graces the upper tiers of lists it would prefer not to be associated with. Perhaps the most notorious is that produced by the Brookings Institution, showing Fresno atop the list of cities with concentrated poverty. A more recent ranking showed some decline but it wasn't enough to drop Fresno from the top.

Fresno unleashes its solar power!

More property owners in Fresno are using the sun to power their homes, according to a new study.

The number of rooftop solar installations has doubled in the past two years, ranking Fresno fourth in the state in the amount of solar-generated electricity and fifth in the number of installations on residential, commercial and government buildings, an advocacy group, Environment California Research & Policy Center, reported Wednesday.

Fresno's 2,146 rooftop solar arrays produce 22 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 22,000 houses. Each megawatt prevents the emission of an estimated 700 pounds of smog-forming pollution annually.

"Competing with the state's biggest cities, Fresno has emerged as a real solar-power leader," said Stephanie Droste-Packham of Environment California. "The Central Valley is growing its solar-power market one roof at a time."

Rooftop solar is an ideal energy source in the San Joaquin Valley, especially considering how sunny and hot it is here, said Courtney Kalashian, associate director of the Fresno-based nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.

"Incomes are low and power bills are high," she said. "Why not utilize the region's most plentiful resource to bring down those power costs and put more money in people's wallets. We could easily become a solar valley!"

Environment California and city officials announced the study results at Ivan Lopez's home in the Little Long Cheng housing community in southeast Fresno, where 25 of 41 houses, including Lopez's, are solar powered. It is estimated that Lopez and the other homeowners there will save a combined $390,000 in energy costs over 30 years.

Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit that installs solar panels in low-income regions, installed the solar systems at Little Long Cheng. KMJ has more here.

San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose rank higher than Fresno in solar capacity. San Francisco, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Oakland and Chico round out the top 10. Clovis is ranked 11th.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin reaffirmed her commitment to solar power in Fresno on Wednesday, and capacity could continue to expand. Other regions also are gaining solar power. Capacity in Sacramento, for example, tripled over two years to 16 megawatts. Read more here in The Sacramento Bee.

Photo of Grid Alternatives "Solarthon" in Fresno