Article City Forum Larry Owens

Santa Clara Builds a Solar Community

Larry Owens is division manager of Marketing and Customer Services for Silicon Valley Power and can be reached at

Five dollars may not buy much today, but it’s a different story in the City of Santa Clara. A $5 monthly contribution helps support the installation of photovoltaic solar energy systems at nonprofit facilities and schools. Under the umbrella of the Neighborhood Solar Program, Santa Clara is helping to build a solar community. Silicon Valley Power, the City of Santa Clara’s municipal electric utility, sponsors the program and matches residents’ contributions dollar for dollar.

Launched in 2002 to encourage the use of renewable energy sources, residents fund the Neighborhood Solar Program via their monthly electric bill payments. The program has also received corporate sponsorship from Agilent Technologies, Air Products and Chemicals, Owens Corning, Equinix, California Paperboard Corporation, Intel, Yahoo! and REgrid Power.

“This program is a perfect example of directing local dollars to projects that have both a local and global impact,” says John Roukema, acting director for Silicon Valley Power. “Why not multiply the environmental benefits by supporting local projects and employment while improving our community too?”

Community dollars have already enabled Haman Elementary School and Valley Village Retirement Community to enjoy the benefits of energy from the sun. Next in line for a solar electric system is the nonprofit Bill Wilson Center, which provides social and educational programs for youths and their families. The center expects the project to be fully funded in 2009.

Every kilowatt-hour of solar electricity produced reduces greenhouse gases by almost one pound of carbon dioxide. Since its installation in October 2004, the 4.9-kilowatt (kW) solar electric system at Haman Elementary School has reduced greenhouse gases and supplied energy equivalent to the amount needed to power nearly 1,000 homes for one day. The Valley Village system, which is nearly 8 kW, provides enough electricity to power three homes on an ongoing basis.

This type of program is not limited to cities with municipal electric utilities — any city can launch a similar effort. The City of Santa Clara offers these tips for cities considering such
a program:

  • Select a nonprofit project that is important to your community — a project that can also generate measurable results;
  • Leverage an existing utility bill, such as water or garbage, and enable residents to support your program with an easy and regular donation sent with their payments;
  • Seek corporate sponsorships to complement ongoing residential contributions and foster community involvement;
  • Publicize the program through your city’s website, local publications, utility bill inserts, newsletters and other marketing materials and venues;
  • Highlight the benefits of spending local dollars to reduce local environmental impacts and increase benefits;
  • Inform your community about the program’s progress and achievements; and
  • Provide matching funds to emphasize your city’s commitment.

The Neighborhood Solar Program is one example of how a city can appeal to its constituents for support of community-based programs and environmental projects. Like many other cities in the state, Santa Clara continues to seek ways to demonstrate its commitment to the environment. For more information on Santa Clara’s efforts, visit

This article appears in the July 2008 issue of Western City
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