In the civic zeal to go green, three cities in eastern Alameda County are making it easier for residents to harvest gold.

Gold, as in golden sunshine.

The cities of Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin have formed a coalition called Solar Cities. Their efforts continue to grow in educating residents about the use photovoltaic solar technology, converting the sun’s energy to electricity, in their homes.

“Our city council has been proactive on green initiatives and environmental initiatives,” said Daniel Smith, director of the Operations Services Department in Pleasanton. “They were trying to come up with a way to facilitate sustainability.”

Photovoltaic solar systems are pollution-free and don’t generate any waste.

Solar Cities continues a series of free educational workshops with one in Dublin scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, at the Dublin Civic Center.

At the workshops, residents can meet with solar vendors and contractors, city building inspectors and representatives of PGE who can fill them in on standards for installation, federal and state tax breaks, financing options and rebate programs. The idea is to help residents decide whether they want to invest in home solar technologies. Residents can find out more in a question-and-answer session with solar vendors, building inspectors and PGE reps.

With the growth of the Solar Cities effort, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton have seen big growth in the number of solar energy permits issued from 2007 to 2008 — respectively, 105 percent, 110 percent and 71 percent. Most of the growth is in photovoltaic roof panels but it also includes solar heaters for hot water and swimming pools.

This month, the solar workshop is part of Dublin Pride Week, dedicated to environmental stewardship and volunteerism in Dublin, said Linda Maurer, assistant to the city manager.

It’s the third in a series of educational workshops. In the last year, workshops have been held in Livermore and Pleasanton. For the third time out, arrangements were made for a bigger venue, anticipating a growing crowd of residents and more solar vendors, said Smith.  The last workshop, held in Livermore, drew an audience of about 90.

“We bring our building inspectors,” said Smith. “Not only do they get to learn about solar from PGE, but the building inspectors also talk to residents about what they are looking for in a contract.”

The building inspectors develop a rapport with solar contractors who set up booths at the workshops. Also, the building inspectors from the three cities compare notes and have streamlined the permitting process, where possible. In Pleasanton it is down to one-stop shopping; most residents seeking to install photovoltaic panels on their roof get their permit in one visit to the department, Smith said.

Before, said Smith, “It could have been multiple weeks just working your way through the red tape.”

Depending on the type of system and its size, the permit costs $150 to $250 in Pleasanton, Smith said.

In Dublin, it’s typically $250 for a residential solar permit, Maurer said, which is intentionally well below the city’s cost in staff time for processing in order to encourage renewable energy.

Solar Cities has a web site where you can read all about it.

Solar Cities organizers Cities are focused on maximizing the convenience of the workshops, planning to stage them about three times a year. Maurer said the questions being asked are: “How do we grow this event? How do we make it so these solar vendors are invested in this event? What structure works best for the residents?”

The Solar Cities effort takes advantage of the bountiful sunshine in the Tri-Valley area (that’s the Amador, Livermore and San Ramon valleys). The Tri-Valley cities have a tradition of cooperating on civic projects, Smith and Maurer said. The Solar Cities coalition started with Livermore and Pleasanton in 2007-2008. Dublin saw the light this year and signed on. Talks have started to determine if, further down the San Ramon Valley in Contra Costa County, the cities of Danville and San Ramon have enough interest to join.