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Supervisor sees energy up on S.F. rooftops

Sunniest areas would have solar panels

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 23, 2001, 2001 San Francisco Chronicle


San Francisco -- Rooftops in San Francisco's sunniest neighborhoods would be covered with power-generating solar panels to help ease the city's energy crunch under an ambitious plan proposed by Supervisor Tom Ammiano.

It is envisioned that at full capacity the project would generate 50 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 50,000 homes -- which would make it the largest such solar program in the nation.

The project, as conceived by Ammiano, would be a public-private partnership. The city would help with financing and private contractors would build and maintain the equipment, which would be installed on commercial and residential buildings.

Ammiano hopes to ask voters in November to approve a Charter amendment that would allow the Board of Supervisors to issue revenue bonds to pay for the project. The bond debt would be paid back with money made from the sale of the electricity and lease payments from participating building owners; property taxes would not be raised. The city would tap into state and federal subsidies for solar power to bring the costs down.

"Our local dialogue about the energy crisis has been missing a key component: a commitment to renewable energy that will be directly beneficial to local residences and businesses," Ammiano said Monday. "The project will stake out the city's commitment to clean, renewable energy."

The solar power could be used by the buildings on which the equipment is housed, with any excess going to the power grid serving the city. "It's not going to be power in the hands of people who are playing games with us. It puts power in local control," said Rick Shattuc, consumer advocate for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer rights group.

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president Jim Mathias said the idea is intriguing. But he wants to see the numbers crunched. "Financing will be a big challenge," Mathias said. "Economies of scale will help bring down costs, but it is unclear if a project focused on the sunny neighborhoods of San Francisco will be big enough in scale to make the numbers work."

Paul Fenn, director of Local Power, an Oakland advocacy group, helped Ammiano develop the proposal. He said the costs could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although San Francisco is more famous for its fog than its sunshine, Fenn said, studies have shown the city has considerable capacity to go solar, particularly in neighborhoods on the south side. To generate 50 megawatts, solar panels equivalent to about 100 football fields would have to be installed on rooftops, he said.

E-mail Rachel Gordon at

2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - 17

-- Swissrose (, May 24, 2001


It's about time for a rational response to obscenely priced $2.00/KWatt*Hr. electricity. At these cost levels, renewables, (esp. solar, where power delivery correlates highly with peak demand) becomes cost effective.

However, it would be better if such a project was done first in sunny and hot desert inland areas. The hard numbers of the economics of bond amortization time and risk would be significantly better. And serving such more rural areas with renewable photovoltaics also avoids the increased transmission losses for conventional power, which would improve the cos- benefit analysis even more. It would likely more than make up for the increased upfront cost of having to disperse the solar capital equipment over a wider area.

However: EXISTING renewable energy providers within California should be paid in full for past power delivery, at spot prices. It's better to pay these firms the obscene prices for electricity that California is paying, than ship the money out of state to fossil fuel gougers. At least the money stays in state, and supports renewable energy development. Also, it does cost more, short term, to produce renewable energy, so these in-state firms aren't really gouging, esp. if they agree to reinvest any "excess profits" in further renewable R&D.

But this isn't being done. Iatrogenic effects are intense indeed.

-- Robert Riggs (, May 24, 2001.

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