Palo Alto property owners have another big incentive to add solar panels to their rooftops, thanks to a unanimous vote by the City Council Monday night.
With the passage of the Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) program, locals will be able to sell electricity generated by renewable sources, such as photovoltaic panels, back to the city utility. The arrangement is also commonly referred to as a “feed-in tariff” program, and builds on the city's existing rebate program for solar panel buyers.
The goal for the first year of CLEAN is to purchase 4 megawatts of electricity from large commercial rooftops, which would be enough to power 1,000 homes, said Palo Alto City Manager James Keene. That would also work toward the city’s goal of obtaining 33 percent of its power from renewable sources, he said.
A map published by the City shows all the commercial rooftops in the city with an estimated capacity of 100kW or greater, including AOL’s, on Page Mill Road. AOL owns Patch.
Applications for CLEAN will begin being accepted April 2.
Craig Lewis, Executive Director of Clean Coalition, a Palo Alto-based organization that designs renewable energy policy and programs across the U.S., was elated by the City’s plan.
“I want to congratulate the Palo Alto Utility’s staff for designing the best clean energy program we have seen to date,” said Lewis. “The example being set is a beautiful example for the country to follow.”
Lewis said that CLEAN stands out from similar programs in other cities because locals won’t see a significant rate increase on their electric bill. He also noted that costs will be kept low due to the energy sources being located here within city limits, negating the need for expensive transmission lines.
“This is actually a really significant program,” said Council Member Pat Burt, who two years ago attended a conference on an initiative to spread these types of programs across the U.S. “It’s the primary method by which renewable energy has been adopted in Europe and elsewhere.”
Burt also highlighted the value of CLEAN for everyday Palo Alto electric customers.
“This rate structure has probably the lowest rate impact on ratepayers of any feed-in tariff program anywhere,” he said.
Furthermore, Burt said that CLEAN fulfills three important objectives for the city: it builds a foundation of locally generated electricity which will be valuable in the event of a prolonged power outage; it offers blue-collar jobs for installers; and it upends the widely held belief that renewable energy corresponds with increased electricity rates.
Council Member Nancy Shepard, who motioned to pass the initiative, said passage of the CLEAN program is a “win, win win.”
“It’s two wins for industry, but I think there are multiple wins for the City of Palo Alto as well,” she said. “Not just for generating our own electricity within the City of Palo Alto, but it’s also my understanding that this could be done on top of a parking garage, so the City of Palo Alto itself could be approached” by a developer.
The program is design to unfold over many years, but in 2012 the minimum project size for applicants is 100 kW, and the City will pay between 12.36 and 14.003 cents per Kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract.
Projects must be located within the City of Palo Alto, but there is no limit to how many projects a single developer or customer may develop in 2012. Complete details on the program are available here.