Council hears recommendation on solar energy

The City Council took to heart the recommendation by the Environmental Sustainability Committee to investigate solar energy systems for public buildings.

Staff was directed at the Nov. 13 meeting to consult with solar energy companies to determine which systems would work best on city facilities; make a list of the facilities in need of restoration; and install the systems accordingly.

"This is a no brainer," said Chris Prelitz, a long-time proponent of solar energy. "Other cities are using it."

In fact, so is Laguna Beach.

City parking meters are solar-powered, which is one reason folks will see them being dusted, as keeping them clean maintains their efficiency.

Solar electricity and thermal panels will provide energy and hot water for the new Lifeguard Headquarters and restrooms on Main Beach, now under construction, City Manager John Pietig said.

Other city facilities were not considered to be good candidates, according to Pietig's evaluation.

Solar-produced electricity was determined not to pan out when the Animal Shelter was rebuilt. However, energy-efficient lighting, skylights and triple-glazed windows were installed.

The light-weight construction of the portable building used for the Alternative Sleeping Location was not considered sturdy enough to support the weight of solar panels, and the energy a system would produce did not justify the cost of installation and maintenance, Pietig reported.

Two companies explored options in 2009 for installations at the city's corporate yard on Laguna Canyon Road. One company that provides designs and installation paid by the customer indicated that the $200,000 cost would take longer to pay off than the life of the system.

A second company, which pays for the installation and recovers the costs through fees from the customers, rebates and tax advantages, informed city staff that the amount of electricity used at the site would not make it financially worth its while to do the project.

Solar power was contemplated for the Third Street Centers, but preliminary estimates indicated that the savings would not justify the cost of installation and maintenance in the foreseeable future, according to Pietig's report. One neighbor also vehemently opposed the installation, based on concerns about glare and view impairment.

"Solar has become more efficient and more cost–effective than it was two years ago," committee member Marty Taylor told the council.

Prelitz said solar systems can be installed at no cost and can be leased.

"It's a win-win," Prelitz said. "And it lowers our carbon footprint."

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