City leaders gather to celebrate solar array
City leaders and staff gathered Monday to celebrate the groundbreaking of new solar panel canopies at the Community Center, one of four locations to get new panels across the city.
The project’s tangible benefits will include $3.9 million in savings for the city over the next 20 years and capacity to generate up to 745 kilowatts of solar energy, or about 1.18 million kilowatt-hours per year. That’s enough energy to power roughly 100 homes per year, said Patrick Carter, assistant to the city manager.
The panels will also provide shaded parking and are “going to be a visual reminder to the community of our commitment to climate change, reducing impacts through that clean energy production,” Carter said.
He noted that the project ties into the city’s broader goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. In October, the city released its draft Blueprint for Carbon Neutrality, a framework to approach and mitigate the climate crisis.
Referring to the solar panels, “This is just one piece of the many that the city's working on, but it's one of those big visible pieces that is going to be going up in the very near future,” Carter said.
The three other locations are the Petaluma Community Sports Fields on East Washington Street, the Petaluma Police Department, and the Swim Center (existing solar panels there are being used to heat the pool).
The new solar panels came at no cost to the city and are being constructed by San Francisco-based ForeFront Power, a commercial solar developer, Carter said.
The deal with ForeFront Power, approved by the City Council in January 2020, did not include batteries for storage during power outages, which was a more expensive option. ForeFront will install and maintain the panels and sell the power they generate back to the city at a rate lower than Pacific Gas & Electric Co. or Sonoma Clean Power, Carter said.
The project came under scrutiny in 2020 because residents were concerned the city could have secured a better deal had they opened the procurement process to multiple bidders. City Council members formally approved the deal in June 2020.
Phase one of solar panel construction will include the Community Center and sports fields, and is expected to be done in spring 2024, Carter said.
He warned that construction at the Community Center will temporarily reduce parking, with 35 spots currently fenced off, including five accessible parking spaces.
“We apologize to the community that we're taking up these parking spaces for a little bit, but it's going to be worth it,” Carter said.
Construction of solar panels at the Police Department will begin in 2024 as part of phase two. Phase three will be completed sometime between 2024 and 2025, and the timeline for completion is dependent on upcoming upgrades to the PG&E substation, Carter said.
In attendance at the groundbreaking were former City Council members D’Lynda Fischer and Dave King, who voted in support of the project in January 2020.
Also in attendance were Interim Police Chief Brian Miller, Council members Dennis Pocekay, John Shribbs, Karen Nau, Janice Cader Thompson, and Mayor Kevin McDonnell, who gave a few remarks.
“The main thing to remember is we wish we'd all done this before, right? We wish we weren't as far deep into a (climate) crisis as we are, but we're doing things. We're achieving things,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @sawhney_media.