Wed10222014

News

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council continues to explore options to address parking constraints in the downtown triangle.

The Los Altos City Council last week held the first of two study sessions to discuss the potential construct...

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Schools

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A Los Altos High School student learns how to use robotic surgical equipment at the school’s Science and Technology Week event last year. Students can also attend hands-on presentations at this year’s event, w...

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Community

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display


Town Crier File Photo
Pirate Manor is once again scheduled to arrive in the front yard of Dane and Jill Glasgow’s home on Manor Way in Los Altos, just in time for Halloween.

Although not the Walking Dead, pirate skeletons have been brought to li...

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Sports

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Eric Reitmeir launches the ball over Mountain View High driver David Niehaus (2) and goalie Kenny Tang. The host Lancers won Friday’s non-league game 9-3.

There wasn’t a lot on the line Friday when ...

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Comment

Reeder, Fung for El Camino HCD: Editorial

The good news for the El Camino Healthcare District (formerly the El Camino Hospital District, for those still getting used to the new name) is that there is a contested election Nov. 4 for the district’s board of directors. Three candidates are runn...

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Special Sections

Plant-based diet offers benefits

Plant-based diet offers benefits


Photo by Ramya Krishna
Los Altos resident Nandini Krishna prepares a meat-free dish According to author Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., a plant-based diet can help prevent cancer.

Shirley Okita of Los Altos has found that adhering to a mostly plant...

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Business

New shop offers haute couture for girls

New shop offers haute couture for girls


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Girls @ Los Altos at 239 State St. offers clothing lines such as Nellystella as well as toys and other items for girls.

Cecilia Chen opened The Girls @ Los Altos as a tribute to the party dress. Whether it’s for...

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Books

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mimi Sommers, who works at a Los Altos dentist’s office, recently wrote a children’s book.

A local dental hygienist recently published a book that aims to ease parents and children during a sometimes anxious e...

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People

BARBARA DARLING MERIDETH

1946-2014

Born in Palo Alto, raised in Los Altos, retired in southern Oregon. Survived by Peter James Merideth, sons Matthew, Jacob and John Merideth, the loves of her life.

She was a housewife who took great pride in her home, her surroundings and...

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Travel

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors


Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, above, boasts a beautiful setting for viewing fall’s colors – and sampling the vineyard’s wines.

Yes, Virginia, there is fall in California.

The colors pop out in...

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Stepping Out

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn



Los Altos Youth Theatre’s production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a musical based on Washington Irving’s classic story, is set to run through Nov. 2 at Bus Barn Theater. The cast comprises 27 young actors, directed by Cindy Powell. Courtesy o...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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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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