Monday, March 19 , 2018, 6:14 pm | Overcast 58º


Out of the Ashes, Westmont Faculty Homes Go Solar

Photovoltaic panels are installed on 40 homes, including the 14 destroyed in the Tea Fire

Workers are installing photovoltaic panels on the roofs of 40 Westmont College faculty homes in the Las Barrancas neighborhood, the first fully solar community and largest residential project in Santa Barbara County.

The photovoltaic panels convert solar radiation into direct current electricity, generating more than 157,000 kilowatt hours each year. The panels will satisfy the electrical needs of the entire neighborhood while eliminating more than 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the environment.

Ben Siebert, CEO of Planet Solar Inc. in Santa Barbara, says that’s the equivalent of removing more than 10 million car miles off the roads over 25 years of service.

“Westmont has been an important and valued influence in our community and is continuing its leadership by spearheading this project,” Siebert said. “We’re hoping that other communities will do the same. Together, we really can reverse global warming.”

The 14 homes that were destroyed in the Tea Fire were prepared for the panels during reconstruction, and the other homes have been retrofitted with brackets.

Russell Smelley, president of the Las Barrancas Homeowners Association, said it was an important environmental step for the community.

“The people liked the green nature of the project,” he said. “In a year from now, the utility company will begin paying people for the solar energy. We wanted to do a great project for the whole neighborhood.”

Seibert said the solar panels will last forever, although the inverters, which cost about $2,000, will need to be replaced about every 15 years. Seibert, who installed his first solar project in 1983, says the Las Barrancas project’s carbon dioxide reduction equates to 52 acres of fully grown trees.

Westmont officials praise Santa Barbara city and county planners and building officials for expediting the reconstruction of more than 200 buildings and homes that were destroyed in the November 2008 blaze. Seibert said the Santa Barbara Community Environmental Council has been instrumental in assisting solar projects in this city.

“Santa Barbara is the birthplace of Earth Day and has always been an environmentally friendly city — the only city with a Fossil Free by 33 policy,” he said.

The CEC, which runs the Fossil Free by 33 program in Santa Barbara, has set an ambitious goal for the region to become carbon neutral by 2033. Community-supported energy is a major component of the CEC’s detailed plan that includes medium-scale solar, wind and possibly ocean energy projects.

— Scott Craig is the media relations manager for Westmont College.

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