Thursday, September 11, 2008

City installs new solar panels


With ironically overcast skies above, local leaders convened at the city’s corporation yard yesterday to celebrate and kick off the largest solar panel installation in Santa Barbara.
Located on the rooftops of municipal facilities on Laguna Street, the 384-kilowatt direct current system is expected to pump out enough power to reduce 414,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

And city leaders joked that the installation company has promised the sun will shine nonstop once the panels are in place.
“Once the solar panels are installed on these roofs, they will generate enough energy to power a thousand homes,” Mayor Marty Blum said.
She said while the expected output will provide only a small portion of the city’s overall energy use, the effort will bring Santa Barbara closer to independence from fossil fuels.
“Smaller efforts really to add up and make a big difference,” she said.
With an estimated 540,500 kilowatt hours of energy being produced annually, the city will be able to power approximately half of the buildings in the area, which include public works operations, the city’s motor pool and community development offices.
Crews from EI Solutions will begin reinforcing the structures to handle extra weight and begin installing the 1,830 Suntech panels soon.
Andrew Beebe, president of the company, said the system should be installed by the end of October. He praised the enthusiastic attitude of local leaders to get the ball rolling on solar projects.
“It is so unbelievably refreshing to come to places like this and find completely receptive people,” he said. “…It’s just a perfect fit.”
Once the system in up and running, it will be one of the highest-producing solar installations in the region, Beebe said.
Through an agreement with Tioga Energy, the city won’t have to get its hands dirty or toss up any money for the installation. Instead, the energy company will front the $3 million project cost and operate the system, selling the electricity back to the city to offset its normal electricity purchases.
“We put up the capital and provide the clean, green energy,” said Paul Detering, president and CEO of Tioga Energy. “It’s a win-win.”
He said the costs of solar energy won’t fluctuate as wildly or rise as quickly as electricity generated by fossil fuels.
Another key benefit that attracted local officials is the ability to pour power back into the electricity supply. Bill Ferguson, the city’s water resources supervisor, said on sunny Sundays when workers aren’t using power at the Laguna Street site, the city’s meter will be running backward as the system sends solar power out onto the grid for other uses.
Ferguson, who was heavily involved in the negotiation, planning and review process behind the solar project, said the system constitutes approximately 2 percent of the city’s overall energy use.
“It’s chipping away,” he said.
Officials noted the city currently derives 23 percent of its power from renewable sources.
A small solar system that went up on the rooftop of Fire Station No. 2 on Cacique Street in the past year spurred the city to examine other potential sites, said Christine Andersen, the city’s public works director.
“That really stimulated a look for where we could really get going,” she said.
With the corporation yard project underway, leaders are already looking for other opportunities. Plans are in the works to install a similar amount of solar panels at the airport’s long-term parking lot, in addition to placing a solar system at Fire Station No. 1 during its upcoming retrofit.

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