by Christi Warren, The Press Democrat
By the end of 2016, as much as 15 percent of the energy used by the John F. Shea Federal Building in downtown Santa Rosa will be provided by solar panels.
The building was one of nine federal sites in California and Nevada selected to have solar panels installed as part of a White House program to bring federal agencies in line with the Obama administration’s renewable energy goals.
The panels will be placed on the rooftop of the Santa Rosa building, which is on Sonoma Avenue between E and D streets.
The overall project is a test run for a program that could be expanded nationally. It marks a partnership between the General Services Administration, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service.
Solar panels also will be installed on rooftops and over parking lots at federal sites in Vallejo, San Jose, Sacramento, San Bruno, Menlo Park and San Francisco, as well as in Reno and Carson City in Nevada.
They ultimately will save the federal government $5 million in electricity costs over about two decades, said Mark Levi, energy program manager of the GSA’s Pacific Rim region. The first year of the program alone will provide a savings of $160,000.
SolarCity, based in San Mateo, won the contract for the project and will be installing the panels throughout 2016. The panels will be installed free of cost, and over the course of the 20-year contract the federal government will pay SolarCity for the resulting energy.
Levi, who coordinated the project, said that because of the current cost of electricity from conventional sources, it will, for a while, cost more to provide solar energy for the Santa Rosa building.
Over time, Levi said, as electricity from conventional sources gets more expensive, solar power will be more cost-effective.
In the fiscal year 2014-15, the building used 662,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. The solar panels on the building’s roof will provide 101,000 kilowatt-hours. The difference in energy need will be sourced through the grid, Levi said.
Ann Hancock, executive director and co-founder of the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection, called the switch to solar a step forward, but noted that it’s hardly surprising for Sonoma County, where homeowners and businesses long have embraced renewable energy options.
“It’s great that the federal government is doing this, especially on the heels of the Paris climate talks,” she said, referencing the recent groundbreaking United Nations conference to address climate change. “Sonoma County prides itself on climate solutions, and solar is a lead technology in getting off of fossil fuel, so it’s with pride that I hear about what they’re doing.”
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