Solar energy crosses into the mainstream in Ventura County

Original article.

By Jefferson Litten, Eye on the Environment

Posted: 12:01 p.m. 0

The call for solar energy in the Tri-County region is about to cross a major threshold: 1 gigawatt of solar power installed.

A gigawatt, or 1 billion watts of solar, creates enough electricity to power more than a quarter million homes, or nearly 90 percent of all homes in Ventura County. Once dubbed “alternative energy,” it’s clear that solar is no longer an alternative upstart in our region, but a mainstream source of electricity.

When we break down how that 1 gigawatt of energy is being generated across Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, about 80 percent is utility-scale — large projects over acres designed to feed power onto the electrical grid. The other 20 percent of the solar power comes from rooftop and ground installations, which is where Ventura County is leading at a local and state level.

Ventura County has more than 12,000 distributed solar projects, totaling close to 100 megawatts of solar energy. That impressive total is more than many U.S. states have and is far ahead of both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. It’s also at the head of the pack in California, ranking as the 12th highest county in the state for the amount of small-scale solar projects installed. Such projects offer Ventura County homes and businesses the ability to generate their own electricity and save money on utility bills.

While solar is now a mainstream energy source, it is important to continue exploring steps to transition fully to clean energy.

One important step toward this transition is the implementation of Community Choice Energy. Regarded by many as the single most effective way our region can collectively move to renewable energy, this program still uses utility lines to deliver power, but offers communities the opportunity to choose their source of electricity. Communities can choose electricity from clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Marin, Sonoma, Lancaster and San Francisco all have Community Choice Energy programs where customers have options from 35 percent up to 100 percent renewable energy. In addition to more clean energy, all four programs offer electricity rates that are competitive with and in most cases cheaper than the existing utilities.

Because the energy is bought locally, electricity customer payments funnel back into the local economy instead of going to utility shareholders. Currently, 80 California communities, encompassing 60 percent of the states’ electric customers, are either exploring Community Choice Energy or running successful programs. On the Central Coast, the three county governments as well as 24 city governments are in the first phase of exploring Community Choice Energy and will finish a Tri-County study in late 2016 that will suggest how this program can work in our region.

Ventura County residents can learn more about Community Choice Energy by visiting channelislandsenergychoice.org. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors will soon consider continued funding for investigation of Community Choice Energy options.

As individuals, Ventura County residents can move toward clean energy by choosing to install rooftop solar. In the city of Ventura, a program offered through July is making that process simpler. Through a program called Solarize Ventura, organized by the Community Environmental Council in partnership with the city, a group purchasing model helps Ventura homeowners install solar electricity through a streamlined and hassle-free process at a discounted price. In 2014 and 2015, Solarize Ventura programs helped 94 homeowners go solar and save on their electricity bills. Residents can visit http://solarizeventura.org to learn more or get personalized help at a workshop from 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 1 at Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura.

With so many new solar projects on the rise in Ventura County, it’s never been easier to keep an eye on the environment. Clean energy is as close as the solar panels likely to pop up on your neighbor’s roof.

Jefferson Litten is the director of energy programs at the Community Environmental Council. Representatives of government or nonprofit agencies who want to submit articles on environmental topics for this column should contact David Goldstein at 658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.