A proposal from a previous Woodside Town Council to install solar panels to power town facilities has raised questions about the viability of the panels as an energy source in light of recent developments in the renewable energy field.
The proposal comes at the same time that the California Energy Commission has mandated that homebuilders install panels on the roofs of all new homes beginning in 2020.
Some energy supply analysts, such as University of California at Berkeley economics professor Severin Borenstein, say that clean energy collectives like Peninsula Clean Energy and Marin Clean Energy are a more cost-effective way to go because of savings from economies of scale, and avoiding the purchase of panels, among other factors.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company delivers solar power and other renewable energy sources from Peninsula Clean Energy and other providers to environmentally conscious customers. Peninsula Clean Energy is a community choice energy program that San Mateo County formed in February 2016. Woodside is enrolled in the program.
Compared with solar farms, rooftop solar systems are "a very expensive way to expand renewables and would not be a cost-effective practice that other states and countries could adopt to reduce their own greenhouse gas footprints," Borenstein wrote in a letter to a member of the Energy Commission in opposition to the mandate.
Although there is some disagreement about whether solar farms inflate their real costs, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory based in Denver has reported that electricity from home solar panels is about two and a half times more expensive than power from large solar facilities on a cost basis.
The Town Council in September commissioned a $20,000 feasibility study for the solar panel project that will be coming before the new Town Council in the next couple of months, according to Town Manager Kevin Bryant.
However, four of the seven council seats changed hands in the November election so the council's perspective could change.
Bryant said he has seen a rough draft of the study, which will advise the council "to install or not install" the solar photovoltaic system.
According to a staff report on the feasibility study, the panels would be used to power Town Hall buildings and facilities, along with electric vehicle charging stations.
A tentative proposal calls for allocating $300,000 for the project as part of Woodside's climate action plan.
In a letter to The Almanac, Woodside resident Ed Kahl questioned the wisdom of pursuing the project. Woodside residents signed up for Peninsula Clean Energy to power their homes, Kahl wrote. "That's why everyone was surprised that the council wanted to do this.
"Five years ago PCE wasn't on the radar," he continued. "Solar panels will double their capacity in two years and in five years solar prices will fall significantly and Woodside's solar system will be 100 years old in 'technology years.'"