Most Viewed Stories
Yuba City solar power praised
Yuba City residents use more solar energy than 90 percent of the state, according to an environmental report released this week.
The city won praise and high marks from Los Angeles-based Environment California. Residents used enough solar power to rank 67 out of about 720 California cities. It also ranked 21st in cities with more than 50,000 people.
"Yuba City can be proud," said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate for Environment California.
The accolades shocked Victor Krambo, president of Yuba City-based All Solar Electric Inc. Krambo said his company has installed more than 100 solar arrays in the Yuba-Sutter area since 1999.
Most of those projects, however, were built in the second half of that time period. All Solar built one set of panels the first year it got into the solar game and then two the year after that. In the third, fourth and fifth years, the snowball continued to grow with six, then 14 and then 25 arrays.
"It's grown year after year," he said.
Growth will continue as the hardware costs needed to build solar panels co tinue to fall, Krambo said. Moreover, Central Valley residents who like to use their air conditioners to weather the area's harsh summers will grow more fed up with high utility bills. A typical bill for someone living on a half-acre lot is $300, he added.
City government has also harnessed the power of the sun.
Yuba City crews installed a 750 kW solar array that went live In January 2008. A 154 kW system started fueling the Richland affordable housing project in August. The city's also streamlined the bureaucracy builders need to navigate to get the OK to construct a solar system of their own, said Aaron Busch, the city's community development director.
"We try to make the process simplistic and universally applied so any and all types of solar contractor can come in and play by the same rules," Busch said.
The collapse of the Central Valley housing market put a shadow over the rise of all that sunshine power, he said. Contractors weren't building houses, so they weren't putting solar panels on them either. Plus, securing the financing to back a solar array has been hard to come by.
Busch said that will change when the housing market starts chugging again.
"It's kind of slowed things down," he said, "but I definitely see that increasing in the future.
"We'll be seeing more and more use of solar facilities."
The same thing will happen throughout the state, Kinman said. People view solar power less and less as a boutique novelty for the affluent. Instead, they're seeing it as a viable investment.
"Solar is taking a foothold across the state," Kinman said. "All around, it's a win-win."
Those wins include saving money on utility bills, stopping pollution and sparking jobs. Solar industry jobs employ more than 25,000 Californians, which makes up one-quarter of the national corps of solar workers.
The corporate sector has also been taking advantage of solar.
In 2010, a 580-kilowatt system was installed at the Yuba City Walmart to offset 20 percent to 30 percent of the store's energy needs. At the time of installation, a company spokesman said Yuba City was selected from among other California stores because it met criteria for optimal solar power generation.
Yuba City Unified School District's foray into solar power earned it some statewide recognition that same year, when Riverbend Elementary School was recognized as the first Grid Neutral Distinguished Campus. Sheets of cerulean blue solar panels stretch across the school's rooftops to provide up to half the school's energy needs.
Steve Plaxco, director of maintenance and facilities, said the district decided to pursue solar as an opportunity to save on energy costs. At the time of Riverbend's construction, rebates were plentiful and contractors were able to adjust the roof to fit panels between the ridges.
Students also have an interactive station in the library where they can see what the 300-kilowatt system is producing and other energy data. The idea is they will grow up to be energy conscious and can promote the benefits of solar energy.
"When they are adults and they are making decisions that affect all of us, maybe they will push it along further," Plaxco said.
Before Riverbend's installation, a few other arrays were visible in the area, but since the solar panels went live, Plaxco has noticed an increase of modules popping up around Yuba-Sutter.
"We drive around and see that and like to think maybe we had something to do with it," he said.
CONTACT reporter Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADjedwards or on Twitter at @ADjedwards. Reporter Ashley Gebb contributed to this report.