Councilman calls solar widget a rip-off — city is paying $275,000 for website calculator

Palo Alto has contracted with Clean Power Research LLC to get an app for the city website that helps consumers calculate the savings from going solar.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A Palo Alto councilman says the city got ripped off when it paid $275,000 for a website widget that tells people how much money they could save by getting solar panels.

City Council agreed to a five-year contract with Clean Power Research LLC for the so-called solar calculator, technically called the “WattPlan,” in December. Clean Power Research was founded by Stanford alum Thomas Hoff, who previously worked at PG&E.

Councilman Greg Tanaka told the Post last week that he thinks the solar calculator is a prime example of the city wasting money. Tanaka said people can find online solar calculators that will access their solar coverage for free, and pointed out that many solar businesses do free consultations for potential customers.

The Post confirmed with two solar installation companies that operate in the Bay Area, Semper Solaris and Poco Solar, that the companies offer free consultations.

Utilities spokeswoman Catherine Elvert said the city’s calculator tool is more accurate than other online calculators. She said online calculators often have ads for solar installation companies, but the city’s tool is unbiased.

Elvert said residents can compare the estimates from the city’s tool to bids from vendors. She said one resident who used the tool decided to cancel her contract with a solar vendor after realizing she was being overcharged for the solar installation.

The solar calculator is not online yet since the city gave Clean Power 18 weeks to install it.


  1. Since the switch from NEM to NEM 2.0, it’s much harder to estimate how long it will take to amortize the purchase of solar panels. NEM was true net metering. It didn’t matter when your panels generated power or when you consumed power, only how much power you generated and consumed. With NEM 2.0, excess power your panels generate is sold to the utility company at a lower rate than you pay for power. You’re paying to use the grid to time-shift. You need to estimate how much power you expect to time-shift which depends on when you generate and consume power. I’ve never seen an online calculator that takes this into account. Does the one Palo Alto taxpayers are paying for do this?

  2. What a waste of taxpayer money! Let the private sector do this on their own dime. I’m glad Tanaka had the guts to call this out, but I’m sure he’ll face a punishment for it. Our city is a mess and we need to take a broom to council this fall!

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