El Cerrito OKs solar panels on city facilities

October 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

EL CERRITO — Six of 22 city buildings will receive their electricity from solar energy when a $1.59 million project authorized by the City Council on Tuesday night is completed.

The panels will go on the city’s community, swim, public safety and recycling centers along with the corporation yard and fire station.

The city will be able to store energy from the panels in the middle of the day when the collectors are most productive and sell the surplus to PGE at peak prices. El Cerrito will then buy a small amount of energy back from the utility at night when PGE’s rates are lowest, according to Maria Sanders, an environmental analyst for the city.

The panels will save 500,000 kilowatt hours per year, the equivalent of power for 70 homes, increase the total amount of solar power used in the city by 40 percent and bring El Cerrito’s clean energy use up to 28 percent of its total use, Sanders said.

The panels have a life span of 30 years and are projected to save $3.8 million in energy costs over that period. The 2.75 percent loan for the project will be paid off in 15 years, with most of the savings to be realized after that.

The city wants to begin the project as soon as possible and the installation will take about two months.

The approval Tuesday followed more than two years of planning. El Cerrito joined with Albany, San Pablo and Piedmont to obtain an Environmental Protection Agency grant to plan the optimum

size of the project and identify the best buildings to receive the panels.

Some of the panels at certain sites will be installed on carports in parking lots and others on building roofs.

“We originally had 12 sites on our list, but some of the smaller sites were coming in expensive,” Sanders said. “We eliminated some because of the state of their roofs, shading from trees and other considerations.”

El Cerrito was also in a hurry to start the project to qualify for a $210,000 grant from the California Solar Initiative, a state program that is scheduled to be phased out, and to take advantage of low interest rates, according to Administrative Services Director Mary Dodge.

In other action, the council agreed to go ahead with a street improvement project on Potrero Avenue between 55th and 56th streets. The initial low bidder for the work, J.A. Gonsalves Sons Construction of Napa, did not include the cost of certain Caltrans permits in its bid and did not submit a new bid that included the costs, said Public Works Director Jerry Bradshaw.

The city will try to obtain more funding for the project or negotiate changes with the second-lowest bidder that will bring it within budget.

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