SANTA CRUZ -- Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year on two solar projects that will provide enough electrical power to operate Santa Cruz City Hall and the Police Department.
The $2.5 million project, which got under way more than a month ago, will outfit two city-owned parking lots with canopies that will hold hundreds of solar panels. The projects on top of an employee and visitor parking lot behind City Hall and a secured police lot are expected to produce a combined 1,800 kilowatt hours of power per day.
The project helps the city address a key goal in its Climate Action Plan: to expand its investments in renewable energy. It is financed through a complicated power purchase agreement with developer Barry Swenson Builder and the related Swenson Solar.
The company will own the solar projects for at least seven years, at which point the city will get its first option to buy and begin generating the energy it owns. Alternatively, the city could wait 10 years to buy, at which time it will be less expensive, at a projected cost of $1 million.
"We're getting a good high-quality project at a comparable price," said Ross Clark, the city's climate action coordinator. "We're saving money in the long run."
Clark said taking out a loan and hiring a contractor to build the project would have cost $2.8 million. Rather, the city decided to loan $1.3 million from its own investment fund, one used for economic development projects, at 4 percent interest while Swenson secured a private loan.
Swenson receives tax benefits from the project, which the company will apply to the debt. The city will pay Swenson the same rates as it would pay Pacific Gas & Electric for the power generated by the solar panels, and Swenson keeps 10 percent as a profit, Clark said.
The square footage for the project is 15,000 at City Hall and 16,000 for the Police Department. There will be 835 solar modules at City Hall and 912 at the Police Department.
To make the structures more architecturally interesting, Aaron Becker, an engineering associate with the Public Works Department, said the canopies at City Hall will contain arches featuring sculptural elements celebrating biodiversity in Santa Cruz. Staff and visitors will be able to park vehicles beneath the sloped canopy, the clearance for which will be 10-11 feet on the low end and 15-17 feet on the high end.
Crews also will perform parking lot improvements at City Hall, including the installation of bioswales to treat storm water runoff. The Public Works Department will cover that $125,000 cost from its annual capital improvements budget.
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