Grand jury shines light on solar power

Cities and the county should do more to promote solar power and make buildings energy-efficient, which would reduce energy costs and create jobs, the county’s civil grand jury has concluded.

A report by the grand jury urges local governments in the county to invest in solar power — rooftop panels in particular — and energy efficiency.

“To make these gains locally will take a lot more than talk, however,” the report concluded. “Bold leadership is a must.”

The grand jury said the county should use grants and other incentives to encourage the installation of solar panels.

The county’s sunny climate is ideal for photovoltaic generation, the report noted.

James Caruso, a senior county planner, said his department has not yet seen the report. However, the county is already doing many of its recommendations, including creating a county position to oversee renewable energy programs. The Board of Supervisors recently created such a position and filled it from within with planner Trevor Keith.

The county also recently updated its open-space element, which encourages all kinds of solar and other renewable-energy projects in the county, Caruso said.

As evidence that the county is not yet exploiting its solar potential, the report cites county statistics that show only a fraction of homes in the county are being outfitted with solar power. There are some 114,000 single-family homes in the county, yet only 214 of them applied for solar installations in 2009, and the number was only 167 in 2008.

“With 114,000 potential rooftops, clearly solar energy is not being fully utilized,” the report stated.

The report acknowledges that two large-scale commercial solar projects are proposed for the southeastern corner of the county. They are undergoing county planning review.

These are controversial, however, based on their potential impact on endangered species and opposition by some neighbors.