Silicon Valley City to be Carbon-Neutral by 2017

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Palo Alto's roofs | Photo: Andrew Mager/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto, home to Stanford University and a frillion startups, says it will be run on entirely carbon-neutral electrical power by 2017. The Northern California city's announcement, made by the Palo Alto City Council this week, came on the heels of an agreement to buy power from three utility-scale solar projects in California.

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Under the set of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), Palo Alto has agreed to buy all the power produced by the Elevation Solar C and Frontier Solar facilities in the northern San Joaquin Valley, and the Western Antelope Blue Sky Ranch B in Los Angeles County's desert Antelope Valley. The PPAs take effect on December 31, 2016 and run for 30 years each.

The PPAs will provide Palo Alto with 182,500 megawatt-hours of electrical power each year, about 18 percent of the city's annual demand.

Palo Alto already claims carbon-neutral status for its electrical supply, but it gets there by buying renewable energy credits to offset its use of fossil-fuel-fired electricity for about 30 percent of its current demand. Between the three solar PPAs and continuing to rely on hydro, Palo Alto hopes to make that particular bookkeeping maneuver a thing of the past.

"Palo Alto has bought the entire output from these three new projects which are being built right here in our home state," says the announcement on the city's home page. "When these projects are completed, people can go gaze upon the fields of solar panels and know that's exactly where their electric power is coming from!"

Palo Altonians thinking of taking that advice might do well to refrain from letting Western Antelope's neighbors, at least, know the reason for their visit. Despite all three solar projects' being sited on retired agriculture lands -- certainly a wiser move than placing them on intact wildlands -- solar development in the Antelope Valley is increasingly linked to fugitive dust emissions, sometimes at catastrophic levels. Local solar projects aren't always necessarily a big hit with the people who live near them.

Of course, there's a lot more to carbon-neutral status than getting off fossil-fueled electrical power. Transportation fuel is a major contributor to any city's carbon footprint. If those same Palo Alto residents put some solar panels on their roofs, they could go do that gazing without firing up the Prius. Just a thought.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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