News DigestPalo Alto prepares for solar-energy shopping spree
Palo Alto's goal of greatly expanding its load of "green" electricity surged forward this month when the city received a record number of bids from companies looking to sell renewable energy to the city.
The huge demand by providers of renewable energy spells good news for the famously green city, which plans to get at least 33 percent of its electricity sales from renewable sources by 2015. The ambitious objective took a big leap forward last month when the City Council approved a 25-year contract with the company Brannon Solar to provide energy at a cost not exceeding $91 million. The project would provide about 5 percent of the city's annual energy needs.
The contract can be a sign of things to come for City of Palo Alto Utilities, which already has one of the nation's premier green-energy programs, PaloAltoGreen, under which residents voluntarily pay a fee to support renewable energy. Last month, the city received proposals for renewable-energy projects from 57 companies offering 92 projects. Of these, 62 are solar projects, said James Stack, a Utilities Department resource planner who gave a brief presentation on the responses to the Utilities Advisory Commission earlier this month.
Stack said the city currently has five renewable-energy projects under development, including the Brannon one. Solar energy prices have been dropping over the past year, making this a good time for the city to buy, he said.
If everything goes as planned, the city's renewable-energy portfolio will slightly exceed the 33 percent goal by 2015. But just to make sure the goals are met, the city issued a fresh request for proposals, which resulted in a flood of responses that exceeded last year's record number. Stack said staff has narrowed down the received proposals to three and expects to send them to the council for approval next spring.
Floor heater may have sparked house fire
A two-alarm fire that damaged a home in the College Terrace neighborhood of Palo Alto near Stanford University on Sunday, Dec. 23, may have been caused by a floor-heater malfunction, according to the Palo Alto Fire Department.
Firefighters responded to a 5:02 p.m. report of a house fire in the 2100 block of Yale Avenue, a block west of El Camino Real. The blaze was reported by a neighbor who had seen smoke spewing from a vent, fire officials said.
When crews entered the 900-square-foot home, they saw flames in the living room and upgraded the response to two alarms, calling in crews from Mountain View, according to the fire department.
The flames were extinguished and the home, which was unoccupied at the time of the fire, sustained extensive smoke damage with fire damage confined to the living room, officials said.
No one was injured and the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the American Red Cross provided assistance to the lone resident of the home, officials said.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but it may have been sparked by a floor heater, according to the fire department.
Fire officials said the incident should serve as a reminder to residents to have their floor heaters serviced and to keep them away from any combustible debris.
Accused killer to be tried on weapons charges
Gregory Elarms Sr., the man who was accused of gunning down East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in 2010, will be tried on weapons charges, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Grandsaert ruled Thursday, Dec. 20.
Elarms is charged with possession of shanks in county jail, including a sharpened toothbrush, a sharpened spork and two sharpened pencils tied together to work as a stabbing instrument. He was in custody facing special circumstances murder charges for allegedly gunning down Lewis in the shopping mall parking garage on June 9, 2010.
But the court threw out the murder charges in November after a defense motion that Elarms was denied his Miranda rights. His defense attorney, Jonathan McDougall, had argued that San Mateo police violated Elarms' rights when they continued to question him although he had asked for an attorney.
Police said Elarms lay in wait for Lewis at San Mateo Medical Center where Lewis worked and followed him to the shopping center where he confronted him and shot him once. Lewis was a well-known community activist who helped found the Free At Last drug rehabilitation program in East Palo Alto and was instrumental in starting the successful parolee reentry program. The two knew each other as youths in East Palo Alto.
Elarms remains in custody on $500,000 bail. He will appear in court Jan. 3 for a preliminary hearing and a hearing to reduce his bail.
— Sue Dremann