Volunteers had to track down extra chairs on Tuesday, Dec. 16, to accommodate the crowd that turned up in a meeting room at the Wheeler Taft Abbett Branch Library for Solar Power 101.
The workshop, put on by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the Pima County Public Library, was created to give people the tools they need to seriously consider sun power for their homes. But Tamarack Little, of Giffords’ office, advised the audience to put first things first.
“Before you think about putting solar on your house, do everything you can with lifestyle and energy conservation,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re just throwing it away.”
There to talk about Marana’s efforts to create a good infrastructure for going solar were Marana building official John Huntley and Rebecca Kunsberg, a Town of Marana fellow tasked with exploring green building.
The pair presented plans for a new green building program in Marana that would help conserve the town’s resources and reduce negative impacts on the environment from development. Focuses could include water and energy conservation, building design and materials, landscaping and indoor environments, Kunsberg said.
In March, Pima County launched its Green Building Program, the first in Southern Arizona. It assists builders in incorporating desert green building practices in design of homes, and provides expedited permit processing for homes that meet the county’s green building standards.
Both programs have the potential to increase the effectiveness of solar power by using design to decrease people’s energy needs.
“The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one that doesn’t have to be generated,” said Giffords, the keynote speaker.
The Marana green building program is still in its early stages, so Hutley and Kunsberg spent their time at the podium asking audience members what they would want to see in such a program.
One participant asked that the town look for ways to encourage passive solar orientation — an orientation of homes that makes effective use of the winter sun for heating and of shade for cooling.
Huntley acknowledged that concern and called it “dear to my heart.”
“Eighty percent of homes are poorly oriented from a solar perspective,” he said, adding that he had a hard time finding a house to buy that would naturally minimize his energy use.
Another workshop participant pointed out that home owners associations sometimes create barriers to going green through their policies; for example, by not allowing clotheslines.
A third participant asked the town to promote universal design — home design that fits people in all stages of life so, for example, a family doesn’t have to move to accommodate an aging relative.
Kunsberg said the time is right for giving thought to how new development might look. The town has 8,600 single-family residential units now, she said, and if the population grows to 100,000 by 2030 as expected, an additional 30,000 homes may be on the way.
“We’ve heard from residents that they want a community that preserves its heritage and open space,” Kunsberg said.
In addressing the issue of solar power, Little said 96.6 percent of Tucson’s energy comes from coal, 3 percent comes from natural gas and 1 percent comes from solar. Little said a typical home uses about 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, which requires 11,000 pounds of coal and 6,000 to 11,000 gallons of water and puts more than 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
A typical 3-kilowatt solar system generates 5,000 kilowatts a year, he said.