Clint Eastwood rounds up votes for solar power


March 26, 2001

CARMEL -- Clint Eastwood wants Gov. Gray Davis to make his day by promoting solar energy as the answer to California's power crisis.

Eastwood's Tehama Golf and Country Club in Carmel has 242 photovoltaic panels powering everything from the clubhouse to the golf carts. And there's enough left over to send thousands of kilowatt hours to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. each year.

So far, only homeowners and small businesses have been able to receive credit for their wind or solar energy added to the state's power grid. But a bill is working its way through the Legislature to allow Eastwood and others generating more than 10 kilowatt hours of alternative energy to receive the same benefit.

PG&E opposes the legislation, saying ratepayers without solar panels would be forced to absorb costs alternative power producers now pay for "standby" service. For every 100 megawatt hours of wind and solar energy produced, the utility would lose $2.6 million in fees, said PG&E spokesman Ron Low.

Eastwood visited Davis' office recently to endorse the bill written by Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek.

"Clint wanted to spur the legislation needed to help make free energy from the sun make economic sense," said Michael Waxer, vice president of Carmel Development Co., which built Eastwood's golf course.

The state Assembly voted 75-1 Thursday to pass the bill. The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation in a few weeks.

Eastwood's system produces 32 kilowatt hours a day. He gives the surplus to PG&E, but each month he's saddled with an electric bill for several thousand dollars for power used at night and on cloudy days. In addition, the solar system cost $200,000 to install last year, Waxer said.

As an incentive for ratepayers to convert to solar power, Keeley's bill would allow schools, nonprofits and businesses to receive credit for the power they produce. A move that would lower electric bills and increase the amount of power added to an energy-starved grid.

The legislation appeals to lawmakers as summer and the sound of humming air conditions looms closer.

"The reason photovoltaic is so attractive to the state is that, for every kilowatt hour we save, we don't have to pay 22 cents for a kilowatt we can only sell for 7 cents," said Guy Phillips, Keeley's consultant on the bill.

If such panels were installed on every public school in the state, some solar experts say, 10 percent of California's peak energy demand would be met.

"Fifty years from now, our grandchildren will learn about this power crisis in school and think we were complete idiots," Waxer said.

Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.