Sat04192014

News

City chips in $7,000 for SFMOMA installation

City chips in $7,000 for SFMOMA installation


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos City Council earmarked $7,000 for the purchase of Chris Johanson’s artwork.

The city of Los Altos will contribute $7,000 toward the purchase of a $28,000 art installation featured in the San Francisco Museum...

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Schools

LASD students celebrate service learning

LASD students celebrate service learning


Courtesy of Sandra McGonagle
We Day, held March 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, exhorts students in the Los Altos School District to effect positive change.

More than 150 Los Altos School District student leaders joined 16,000 Bay Area students to ce...

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Community

Film career launches with Cannes screening

Film career launches with Cannes screening


Courtesy of Zachary Ready
Los Altos native Zachary Ready, front left, and co-director Andrew Cathey, right, celebrate their Campus MovieFest awards.

After learning the art of filmmaking as a child in the front yard of his family’s Los Altos home...

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Sports

Sports on the Side

Pathways Run/Walk slated May 10 in Hills

The 13th annual Pathways Run/Walk is scheduled 9 a.m. May 10 at Westwind Community Barn, 27210 Altamont Road, Los Altos Hills. The course wends through Byrne Preserve and onto the Los Altos Hills Pathways sys...

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Comment

Now is the time to expand parking: Editorial

Just a few short years ago, vacancies dotted downtown Los Altos. Property owners had a hard time attracting businesses because there was a shortage of customers. That is no longer true. Now, the cry is: Where are my customers going to park?

The city...

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Special Sections

Epicurean's Mary Clark Bartlett: Serving sustainability

Epicurean's Mary Clark Bartlett: Serving sustainability


Courtesy of Michael McTighe
Mary Clark Bartlett is founder and CEO of Los Altos-based Epicurean Group.

Labels such as “healthy,” “organic” and “green” are rarely used to describe the meals served in most corporate cafes in Silicon Valley. But on...

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Business

Local realtor honored for volunteer efforts

Local realtor honored for volunteer efforts


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Coldwell Banker recently recognized realtor Kim Copher, right, for her philanthropic efforts. Copher and colleague Alan Russell, left, volunteer at Reach Potential Movement, where they collect books for its Bookshelf in ...

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Books

Local Author Spotlight

In an effort to support authors from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, many self-published, Book Buzz periodically spotlights their books and offers information on where to purchase them. Local authors are encouraged to submit brief summa...

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People

Noteworthy

RotaCare honors local volunteer

RotaCare Bay Area honored Jim Cochran of the RotaCare Mountain View Free Medical Clinic with the Outstanding Clinic Volunteer Award April 10 for his commitment to RotaCare’s mission of providing free medical care to t...

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Travel

Sausalito: Explore the historical city with world-class views

Sausalito: Explore the historical city with world-class views


Eren Göknar/ Special to the Town Crier
Sausalito offers panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. A number of companies schedule boat tours that sail past Angel Island and Alcatraz.

On a clear day, Sausalito offers spectacular views of the San Franc...

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Stepping Out

Western Ballet performs this weekend  at Smithwick Theatre in Los Altos Hills

Western Ballet performs this weekend at Smithwick Theatre in Los Altos Hills


Courtesy of Alexi Zubiria
Western Ballet’s “La Fille Mal Gardée” features Alison Share and Maykel Solas. The production runs Friday and Saturday at Foothill College

Western Ballet is slated to perform “La Fille Mal GardéeR...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

A yoga class a day keeps the stress away

A yoga class a day keeps the stress away


Van Houtte/Town Crier Yoga of Los Altos hosts a variety of classes, including Strong Flow Vinyasa, above, taught by Doron Hanoch. Yin Yoga instructor Janya Wongsopa guides a student in the practice, below.

It’s nearly 9 a.m. on a Monday mornin...

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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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