22 Aug 2014
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Council Eyes Contract for Solar at 5 City Sites

On the El Cerrito City Council agenda Tuesday is approval of a contract for a long-planned effort to install solar panels at five city-owned sites. It's part of a joint procurement agreement with Albany, Piedmont and San Pablo.

Council Eyes Contract for Solar at 5 City Sites

El Cerrito city staff are asking the City Council Tuesday night to approve a $1.6 million contract with a private firm to install solar panels at five city sites, concentrated chiefly at the Community Center and the Public Safety Building.

The council in August last year gave the green light to a four-city agreement, with El Cerrito in the lead role, for joint procurement of a contractor to put solar panels, or photovoltaic (PV) arrays, on municipal buildings. The other cities are Albany, Piedmont and San Pablo.

Completed bids were received from two companies, RGS Energy (part of Real Goods Solar) and Sunwize. A staff report prepared for the council meeting said the RGS Energy proposal offered more for less cost. It requests approval of a design-and-build contract with RGS Solar not to exceed $1,587,000.

The initial review looked at placing solar at a dozen city sites, but half of them were found to be financially not feasible, the staff report said.

The total installation would add 356 kilowatts of solar capacity to city facilities, with more than half – 188 kW – placed on roofs and yet-to-be-built carport structures at the Community Center offices and pools.

The second biggest array would place 134 kW of capacity on the roof and over part of the parking area at the Public Safety building facing City Hall. The remaining 34 kW would be distributed in smaller arrays at Fire Station #72 on Arlington Boulevard, the Recycling Center and the Corporation Yard, which faces the Recycling Center across Schmidt Lane.

The project would be financed through a lease-purchase deal, which staff estimates will save the city an average of $10,000 per year during the 15 years when the debt is being paid off, with the savings ballooning to $180,000 in the first year after the debt is retired. 

"After the debt is retired in Year 15," the staff report says, "the financial benefits of solar are  estimated to create approximately $3.8 million in net energy savings by Year 30, when the system will be nearing the end of its useful life." 

The estimated savings take into account what the city would save on PG&E bills, operation and maintenance costs of the solar panels, the loan pay-back costs and rebates from the California Solar Initiative (CSI), according to the staff report.

In addition to savings, the staff report says, the plan provides additional benefits:

  • Helps the city meet it greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. In February last year, the council adopted targets of 15 percent below 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2020 and 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2035 for city operations and the community. The contract before the council would "reduce the City's annual GHG emissions by 135 tons, or 5% of the 2005 baseline inventory," the staff report says.
  • Help insulate the city from the new PG&E rate structure. PG&E is switching from a flat rate system to time-of-service structure, with higher rates during peak load periods when the city will be gaining the most benefit from conversion to solar, the staff report says.
  • Help the city serve an as environmental model. "To date, the entire community of El Cerrito has  installed 900 kWdc of solar capacity, according to the CSI database," the staff report says. "By adding another 356 kW of high profile solar projects, the City will be increasing the entire solar capacity of the community by nearly 40 percent and will provide a valuable case study for other small communities throughout California." 

The staff report for the contract and a seperate staff report on the financing are attached to this article.

In January 2010, a partnership of the four cities with the non-profit Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) won funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Showcase Communities Program to pursue climate protection and energy management activities.

Their successful grant proposal created a collaboration called the "Small Cities Climate Action Partnership (ScCAP)." It was intended to create a model for small cities to pool staff, consultants and electricity demand for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving climate action planning.

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