Electric Shortcut for Oceanside Library

The city of Oceanside believes it has hung up a couple of firsts in the solar energy field.

According to Mayor Larry Bagley, it was the first city to establish a leasing program for solar thermal systems in the homes of its citizens. As a result, more than 1,000 homes get their hot water courtesy of the sun.

That was in Bagley's first term. In his second, the city has established a solar photovoltaic program, believing it is the first city to obtain a solar photovoltaic system for one of its municipal buildings through the third-party financing route, so that the city gets the benefit of reduced utility rates without any capital investment.

The city's new system is installed in the public library and was a cooperative venture between the city, private investors, and two solar energy firms. Bagley considers it a demonstration project to give governments and businesses a chance to see first-hand how photovoltaics works and to consider it as an alternative way to reduce utility bills.

Photovoltaics is a shortcut, a means of turning the rays of the sun directly into electric current through specially made silicon cells, thus bypassing the cumbersome--and fuel-gobbling--generation equipment that is conventionally used.

The Oceanside Library installation is a 10-kilowatt system that is planned to provide about 10% of the library's electrical need. Jennifer Sansone, Oceanside's energy coordinator, said it is the first of that size in the San Diego Gas & Electric Co.'s territory.

The system was designed and installed by Photosil, a joint venture of Conserdine Corp., 11611 San Vicente Blvd., Suite 1050, Los Angeles, a company that has installed more than 1,000 solar water heating systems throughout Southern California, and Photocomm Inc., a San Diego photovoltaic systems engineering and design company. The photovoltaic modules were made by Kyocera Corp., San Diego, and the inverter by Helionetics, Irvine.

The way a solar leasing arrangement (often called a micro-utility) works is that a private investor buys the system, receiving various tax benefits as well as profit from its operation.

The system is installed on the building, whose owner buys the energy the system produces from the investor at a rate less (20% in most cases, including Oceanside) than what the building owner would have to pay to buy the energy from the utility company.

The solar company profits by being paid for designing, selling, installing and maintaining the system. The investor gets profits and tax advantages. The building owner gets energy at less than the utility's rate, with no capital investment.

In some cases there is an added profit: When more electricity is produced than the building needs, the excess is sold to the utility.

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