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Converting sunlight into electricity on site has become an attractive investment for schools looking to reduce utility costs. To help school facilities personnel, board members, finance and business officials and administrators throughout the state weigh the decision, an all-day Solar Schoolhouse Forum will be held at the Sonoma Mountain Village event center in Rohnert Park from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on March 26.

The forum will provide the information and tools for schools to have a successful experience going solar, including a review of successful solar school projects, and tips for what to include in RFPs and contracts.  The pros and cons of various financing models will be discussed.

Also explored will be the huge opportunity to leverage these solar electric systems as teaching tools and how best to engage the teaching community at each school.

A $55 fee will include a continental breakfast, lunch and a networking reception at the end of the day.  Advance registration is required by March 15. To register, visit www.solarschoolhouse.org and click on the registration link for the forum.

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Legislation boosting solar net metering, approved overwhelmingly by the Assembly, is heading to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk, and he's expected to sign it.

Assembly Bill 510 by Nancy Skinner of Berkeley would extend credit to consumers who contribute clean energy to the state's electricity grid, instead of capping it at 2.5 percent of each utility's peak power demand. AB 510 would double the cap to 5 percent.

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Colorado will be the testing ground for the environmental effects of large-scale solar arrays. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is providing laboratory researchers an opportunity to document effects at its 1 megawatt solar array.

Such arrays, often planned for large empty spaces like the Mojave Desert in Southern California, have raised objections among environmentalists because the power line necessary to move the energy to cities could interfere with wildlife and pose an eyesore. Some proposed sites in California may cover up to 5,000 acres.

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Scientists at Caltech created vertical crystals of silicon – microwires – to capture as much as 85 percent of the full spectrum of incoming sunlight. That's almost as efficient as traditional silicon wafers yet requiring just 1 percent of the silicon. It could significantly reduce solar power costs.

Some photovoltaic companies have developed cells that can be inserted in clear tubes that can receive sunlight from any angle, including from below via a reflector.

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Investment money for alternative energy is flowing again, after withering when the credit markets froze in 2008. Three billion dollars in government subsidies in the U.S. and many more billions abroad have stimulated the installation of nearly 8,000 megawatts of new wind capacity in 2009, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Now backers of what Bloomberg calls "alternative alternative energy," largely shut out of federal funding in the past, are getting some money. They include biomass, geothermal and marine wave power.

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Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates called on the world's tech community to find a way to turn spent nuclear fuel into cheap clean energy.

Mr. Gates called climate change the world's most vexing problem and said that creating new vaccines and improving farming techniques should take a back seat to inventing and perfecting clean energy technologies during the next 20 years. He added that the world's energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and solar photovoltaics and solar thermal.

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Submit items for this column to Loralee Stevens at lstevens@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4255 or fax 707-521-5292.