Now here’s a bright idea

Put solar panels on City Hall, an alternative energy fan says.

Until scientists find a way to harness hot air emanating from the mouths of the city’s elected officials, Joe Deets touts another alternative energy option to power City Hall.

“Look at the building: it’s got a huge roof with full southern exposure and it’s unobstructed by trees or other buildings – it’s ideal for solar panels,” said Deets, who has garnered enthusiastic support from city councilors after pitching his sun-powered City Hall idea.

The proposal earned one of Councilman Nezam Tooloee’s favorite plaudits.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “There’s no reason for the city not to put solar across the building. A project like that could reduce or possibly eliminate electricity bills at City Hall.”

Councilman Bill Knobloch believes a city-sponsored solar project could inspire others to make use of the technology.

“We could be pathfinders on this and show the community it does work,” he said.

Deets, who organized an island solar forum last summer, is now working with councilors and city staff to draft a resolution that may go before the council in the coming months.

“As our energy situation becomes more dire, the community has to find ways to become more self-reliant,” he said. “The sooner we start doing that, the better.”

He envisions a small start-up project that fits the city’s budget or draws from other funding options. A larger scale solar retrofit could come later, depending on the city and community’s support for the project.

“I’m mindful of the city’s expenses and budget,” said Deets. “Their priority is roads and other things that really need to be done now. I’m trying to find ways to get this together without draining the city’s budget.”

Deets is exploring grants and private financing to help fund the project. He is also looking into the possibility of solar revenue bonds similar to those implemented in California, Hawaii and New Mexico.

Voters in San Francisco approved a $100 million bond for solar and other energy projects 2001, while the city’s public utilities commission helped pay for a $7 million project installing 5,000 solar panels on Moscone Convention Center.

San Francisco city officials estimate they save about $210,000 a year after the center’s solar panels are installed and the interior facilities are retrofitted with energy-efficient fixtures.

Solar panels aren’t just for big cities in sunny places.

The Clallam County courthouse in Port Angeles was outfitted with 126 solar panels in 1979.

After 27 years, the panels still provide heat for the courthouse and hot water for the county jail at yearly cost savings of about $30,000 per year, according to Solar Washington, a non-profit solar advocacy group.

Deets is still researching Bainbridge City Hall’s power consumption and energy needs. By his estimation, a $80,000 investment in solar equipment can supply the energy needs of a large home. He understands, however, that powering City Hall would cost substantially more.

“Personally, I feel we’ll run out of money before we run out of roof,” he said. “So we’re looking at a smaller system that’s easier to finance.”

Councilman Kjell Stoknes appreciates Deet’s conservative approach to the solar project.

“It could be a sample – something citizens could look at,” he said. “It’s something we all need to look at because the issue of sustainability is a huge one. I really advocate anything that, in the long-term, gives us some energy savings.

“We’re going to need it as the population grows worldwide and right here as well.”


Bulb turns on

The council’s Community Relations Committee will discuss the City Hall solar project on June 19. Contact Joe Deets for information:

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