Wed07302014

News

‘Brown is the new green,’ says local water district

‘Brown is the new green,’ says local water district


Lina Broydo/Special to the Town Crier
Are downtown Los Altos flower pots getting too much water? The Santa Clara Valley Water District plans to hire “water cops” to discourage overwatering.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is spendi...

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Schools

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers


Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Middle school students make robotic hands using 3-D printers during a STEM Summer Camp at Foothill College.

From designing roller coasters to developing biodegradable plastics, high school students received an i...

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Community

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Businesswomen Joan Mazimhaka of Rwanda, third from left, and Fakhria Ibrahimi of Afghanistan, in orange, traveled to the U.S. with a 26-woman delegation through the Peace Through Business program.

Employees scoop ice ...

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Comment

Moving on: The Rockey Road

Just over a month ago, we decided to put our house on the market. My husband and I had been tossing around the idea of moving back to the area where we grew up, which is only approximately 40 minutes from here. Of course, Los Altos is a great place t...

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Special Sections

Looking for life without lows, local diabetic tests artificial pancreas

Looking for life without lows, local diabetic tests artificial pancreas


Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Dr. Trang Ly, left, reviews blood sugar readings on a smartphone with Los Altos resident Tia Geri, right, and fellow participant Noa Simon during a closed-loop artificial pancreas study for Type 1 diabetics.
...

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Business

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday


ElLie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Armed with blow dryers, Halo founder Rosemary Camposano, left, and store manager Nikki Thomas prepare for the blow-dry bar’s grand opening on First Street Monday.

A blow-dry bar is set to open downtown Monday, and i...

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Books

"Frozen in Time" chronicles harrowing WWII rescue attempts


Many readers can’t resist a true-life adventure story, especially those that shine a spotlight on people who exhibit supreme courage in the face of adversity and end up surviving – or not – against the odds.

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People

CARSTEN HUGHES

Long time Los Altos resident, Dr. Alfred Hughes, died May 1st after a long illness. Dr. Hughes was born in 1927 in Maspeth, NY. He served in the US Army from 1945-6, attended Brooklyn Polytechnic University, then graduated from Reed College in Portla...

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Travel

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway


Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe offers fall getaway packages that include spa treatments and yoga classes.

Fall in North Lake Tahoe boasts crisp mornings and opportunities to spend quality time in the mountains. Specially ...

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Stepping Out

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn


Town Crier file photo
Local actors rehearse a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Los Altos Youth Theatre and Los Altos Stage Company’s collaborative production of “The Wizard of Oz” is slated to close Sunday at Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave.

T...

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Spiritual Life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life


Shaw

Stanford University named the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, its new dean for religious life.

Provost John Etchemendy announced Shaw’s appointment July 21, adding that she also will join the faculty in...

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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Going clean, saving green: Solar energy payoff

Photo Joe Hu/Town Crier

After nine trees blew down on their Los Altos property, creating a lot of sunlight, Gary Hubbard and his wife, Dr. Eleanor Sampson, decided to investigate the benefits of solar energy.Here
This is the first of three articles about solar energy. The second article will be published July 16.

On New Year's Day 2006, high winds blew down nine trees on our lot – and house – winds no one in the neighborhood had seen in 30 years. Bad news for the greenery, but suddenly there was sun everywhere and creating electricity through a photovoltaic system seemed practical.

Although I consider myself green, I once read that the savings in the electric bill could pay for a solar-panel system within eight to 11 years – not a lucrative incentive at my age. But with rising energy costs, I decided to investigate just how practical a solar-energy system would be for my home in economic terms.

Cash Flow and Debt

After crunching a few numbers, I realized the payoff could come in the first year in terms of simple monthly cash flow. With increasing electricity rates, it would just get better.

Assuming the cost of the system would be paid by a tax-deductible home-equity loan, and the system would meet all our electricity needs, the only monthly cost would be the loan payment. If that first loan payment was less than our monthly electric bills, then our total monthly costs would be less – immediately.

Any remaining home-equity debt for the full cost of the system would be paid upon sale of the house, just as we expect a remodeled kitchen to return most of its cost upon sale. Since the monthly savings in electricity costs can be valued in dollar terms, it should follow that the cost of a photovoltaic system could be recovered much more quickly than any other home improvement. In fact a new, small, solar-powered home development in San Jose reported brisk sales in February amidst declining home sales and prices.

Our Case

OK, here's how it worked for us. We receive electricity service from a grid of power wires that connect us to a PG&E power station. Instead of going off the grid, which would require buying expensive batteries, we opted to pay the connection costs of remaining on the grid - this allows us to use power from PG&E during rainy days – or weeks.

We send the company excess electricity on long and sunny days averaged through the year – the meter actually spins backward – in return for using power when we need it. We are not billed for any electricity we use that exceeds what we generate until the end of the year.

Given our electric-heated hot tub and the usual array of TVs, computers, appliances and lighting, I wanted to be sure we generated enough power to pay for most or all of our electric needs. I have replaced most incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights – we have 30 in the house.

We opted for a six-kilowatt system – approximately twice the size of the three-kilowatt systems cited for homeowners' needs. A three-kilowatt system might actually be a wise choice for small users, as it reduces electric use by eliminating the highest rates charged by PG&E. These are the four-tiered rates you pay when you use more electricity than the base amount, charged at a low-cost base-rate. In Los Altos, the highest rate may be three times more expensive than the base rate – cutting use to base levels results in sufficient savings.

But I wanted to be protected from rate increases and fuel-scarcity issues that continued reliance on fossil fuels will most likely bring. We also have sunny space on our 0.75-acre lot that gives us a 40- by 27-foot exposure for all 40 panels.

Increasing Rates

From September 2005 to August 2006, the year before our solar-panels installation, the combined increase for PG&E's top-three tier rates was 33.16 percent, as noted in our billing statements. The lowest of those three rates went from 17.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to 21.9 cents. The top-two rates each went from 21.6 cents to 30.3 cents per kwh. Since the base rate and the one just above it remained the same, and our use was split almost evenly between the first two and the second three rates, the average increase for all rates should have been half of 33.16 percent, or 16.5 percent.

According to the rate history on PG&E's Web page, the average total rate increase between March 2005 and March 2006 was 14.7 percent – 13.6 cents to 15.6 cents per kwh. However, information from the same source notes a 6.7 percent increase in average rates from March 2006 to March 2008.

Gary Hubbard is a Los Altos Hills resident.

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