Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Those Solar Panels Off the Richmond Parkway

Richmond: New solar farm unveiled; other installations in the works
Other alternative energy projects in the pipeline

 Richmond: New solar farm unveiled; other installations in the works

RICHMOND — The city and public electricity provider Marin Clean Energy unveiled a new, two-megawatt solar farm Tuesday that will generate energy to power up to 600 homes each year,  the equivalent of taking 114 cars off the road.

The site, located off the Richmond Parkway in North Richmond, is the city’s first feed-in tariff project that partners with local entrepreneurs who generate solar energy on their properties and then sell it back to MCE. The idea is to create incentives for solar installations, since land owners can quality for federal tax incentives.

“There is an unprecedented opportunity to provide power generation right in the places where people use it and employ the people who live there,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who also serves on MCE’s board of directors.

Richmond was the first city outside of Marin County to join MCE, a nonprofit provider of renewable energy that offers customers the option of having 50 percent to 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal and hydroelectric.

Other member jurisdictions that have joined MCE include  Marin and Napa County counties, and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Lafayette, San Pablo, and Walnut Creek.

The North Richmond project is one of several MCE initiatives currently in the pipeline in Richmond, including a 10.5-megawatt array at the Chevron refinery expected to be installed over the next several months. Both will generate power for local homes and also employ local workers through a partnership with Richmond BUILD, a  program that trains low-income residents, including many who have a criminal record, to work in the solar field.

A third 10.5-megawatt solar array, also located in North Richmond, is scheduled to come on line over the next several months, following a year-long delay after the initial contractor was unable to secure financing.

“(The project) is a really great example of how MCE can partner with local companies that have unused or underutilized land to help us deliver on our goals” of building renewable energy projects and creating jobs, said Dawn Weisz, CEO of Marin Clean Energy.

MCE has faced criticism in the past for using unbundled renewable energy certificates (RECs), credits that allow companies to say they are using renewable energy, even when that electricity comes from traditional sources. The company says that while it has used unbundled RECs in the past because of a scarcity of available alternative energy, they make up just 3 percent of its portfolio today.

Contra Costa has enough solar arrays — mostly residential — to annually generate 39 megawatts of energy, enough to power nearly 12,000 homes each year, according to the California Solar Initiative.

Alameda County has the capacity to generate 27 megawatts of solar each year, or enough to power 8,000 homes. Interest in alternative sources of energy generation has also recently led to the creation of the East Bay Community Energy, a consortium similar to MCE composed of numerous cities in Alameda County.

Karina Ioffee covers the city of Richmond and West Contra Costa County. She has been a reporter for 15 years and has won numerous awards for her work, including from the Overseas Press Club. She speaks Spanish and Russian and is a former competitive gymnast. When not working, she likes to do yoga, cycle and dance.

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