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Santa Barbara County is going solar, at least on county government’s Betteravia Road campus in Santa Maria.

The Board of Supervisors signed off on the installation of solar panels, LED and natural lighting at the government complex. Well, almost. Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam was the lone holdout in the final vote, a fact that should surprise no one. More about that in a moment.

A contractor will install solar panels atop structures built above 18 parking areas for employees and visitors at the Probation Department, Health Care Center, Social Services, Early Learning Center, Joseph Centeno Administration Building and County Clerk’s office, all at Centerpointe and Lakeside parkways.

The bottom-line cost of the project is expected to be just under $4.5 million. That’s a major investment, but one that should pay off in the long run. Savings from the changes are estimated at more than $5.1 million over the 15-year life of the project.

The cost-saving from maintenance alone is predicted to be about $14,000 a year. That’s what happens when you replace more than 2,200 regular lights with LEDs, which have a very long lifespan, thus eliminating the need for having someone climb up on a ladder and change bulbs.

There is an important lesson here for home owners and business operators. Although LED bulbs cost quite a lot more than the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs and their predecessors, the money saved in energy and replacement costs more than makes up for the up-front expense.

Most board members raved about the project, and Supervisor Adam supported it, at first. He changed his mind later, based on the fact that the county is essentially borrowing money to make the switch to a more sustainable energy plan for the county complex. He ended up calling it a “feel-good” project.

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Adam makes valid points with his concerns about the county borrowing more money for a new program. The solar panels will cost about $2.3 million, which will be financed by a California Energy Commission 1-percent interest loan. The $600,000-plus cost for the LEDs and collateral gear will come via a zero-interest from a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. loan, which the county will pay back on its monthly utility bills. Of the total project costs, only the battery system and a few smaller items will be paid from the county’s General Fund.

Adam has a thing about the county borrowing more money, without paying for some of the projects approved in the past. Specifically, he can, and does bring up the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance that is being paid down in tiny increments.

We’re with Adam on that point, but believe him to be off-target on the energy paradigm shift for the county government complex. For one thing, such a setup protects the county against PG&E’s strategy of cutting off the electric power when there is a wildfire threat. When PG&E pulls the plug, the solar power and backup machinery will keep the lights on.

Adam ended up voting against the project, based on his concerns for more government borrowing. He’s right about seemingly endless government borrowing, but that fails to recognize the long-term benefits of the county being more energy self-sufficient with a program that pays for itself.

We applaud the board majority for pointing county government toward energy independence. Given the problems California’s energy providers have, it’s evident that change is coming with regard to this state’s energy strategy.

It’s always best to look forward, especially in government.

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