We spend a lot of time researching sources of energy, in part because research is fun, but mainly because the sustainable ways of generating what we need is our future.
That is not a statement against fossil-fuel energy generation. We are not naive enough to think we can just drop oil and gas cold-turkey. Fossil fuels are still the primary energy generators.
But oil and gas are finite resources. At some point, we’ll use up Earth’s supply of fossil fuels. We need to be prepared for that future.
Which is why we take great pleasure in reading about the solar-photovoltaic projects at Righetti, Pioneer Valley and Delta high schools. The projects are near completion, and will provide several million dollars in utility savings over the life of the project.
Photovoltaic panels are being placed in the parking lots above vehicle spaces at Righetti and Pioneer Valley high schools. Delta High will put its panels on the ground near the staff parking lot.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District spends $994,000 a year currently on electricity. According to an agreement with a private company, once installation is completed the firm will provide electricity for 20 years, with an optional five-year extension. District officials expect to save $140,000 in the first year of operation and approximately $7 million over the 25-year life of the agreement.
Money saved is money earned for every school district, so switching to solar makes a lot of fiscal sense for schools — and for taxpayers.
Solar is going big-time all across the United States. As of about this time last year, the U.S. passed the 1 million mark for solar installations, according to a Consumer Reports news release. About 90 percent of those systems came online in the last decade, helping families, businesses and entire communities become more self-sufficient when it comes to generating electric power.
Take the 13,000 residents of North Adams, Massachusetts, for example. Since September 2015, 80 percent of the power for the city’s 33 buildings has come from three solar arrays, the biggest of which sits atop a capped landfill — a perfect spot in what urban planners call “diminished property.”
The solar arrays were installed at no cost to taxpayers through a lease arrangement, and the panels have cut the community’s electric bill by about two-thirds.
Then there are Jon and Mami Humann of Mission Viejo, whose $17,668 cash investment in a solar array for their home is saving them about $240 on their monthly electric bill. The Hermanns paid cash, thus saving about $80,000 over the term of a lease agreement — so, they are making money two ways.
It’s not unusual to see solar arrays atop parking structures throughout the Southwest, where sunshine is more or less relentless, and capable of generating most of the electric power needs for supermarkets, retail outlets and other commercial buildings.
What makes all this truly exciting is that solar power-generating devices are considerably less expensive today than they were just five years ago. Advancing technology will continue to bring buy-in costs down, so going solar will no longer be a financial extravagance.
In fact, it’s not difficult to envision a future in which just about every structure has some kind of photovoltaic device on the roof or in the yard, or perhaps a small wind turbine, depending on whether the place you live has a lot of sunshine or a lot of wind.
Thankfully, the Central Coast has plenty of both. The ability to be energy self-sufficient is right here.