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County’s solar project finally a-go

March 18, 2013

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Solar City last week to install solar panels on county-owned buildings in Independence. Work is scheduled to be completed by August. Photo by Mike Gervais

Inyo County is ready to get to work on a solar project at its Independence campus thanks to a low-interest loan offered by the California Energy Commission.
Using the 15-year loan with a 1 percent interest rate offered by the CEC, Inyo County is beginning plans to construct a 612.8 kilowatt photovoltaic electric system.
Last week, county leaders approved a contract with Solar City for the roof-mounted system for county facilities in Independence.
The project is estimated to cost $1,881,973. County Administrative Officer said $992,054 will be funded through the CEC loan, while the remaining $889,919 through rebates offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
“The county’s annual cost for repayment of the CEC loan will be $71,551 a year,” Carunchio said. “Over the 25-year life of the project, the project is estimated to generate $2,406,927 in savings.”
Dr. Rick Brown, president of TerraVerde Renewable Partners, which has helped the county plan the project, said there is some risk about completing the project in time for the county to be eligible to apply for LADWP rebates, “but Solar City is very confident they can get this project done in time” for the LADWP deadline late this year. “If this project is approved, we are going to move quick and be done by August,” Brown said before the board unanimously approved the contract.
Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths asked if maintenance on the solar system will end up costing the county in the long-run.
Brown said the contract with the county includes a maintenance schedule, but how the county approaches that will be up to local leaders. He explained that maintenance could be handled in-house by county staff, contracted out to a third party or to Solar City.
Deputy Public Works Director Jim Tatum said he is planning to purchase a mobile power washer that the county could use to wash the solar panels when needed, and can be transported to other areas of the county for other uses, such as cleaning restrooms at county-operated campsites.
Brown said that the county will know when the panels need washed, because there will be a noticeable drop in production of the solar panels if they are dirty. He said the panels are generally washed once a year, in the spring, but late spring rains may keep the panels clean enough to operate efficiently throughout the year.
Tatum, the former CEO of the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds, said that solar panels installed on fair buildings never needed to be washed because rainwater kept them clean and running efficiently.
“The main issues you’ll see are the first 18 months, when you are debugging the system,” Brown said, explaining that the recently-completed photovoltaic system Solar City constructed at Big Pine School recently needed some work, as the system interfered with the school’s scoreboard.
Tatum also pointed out that the county has a 10-year warranty on the solar panels, so “unless someone steals the sun, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Before casting his vote in support of the project, Griffiths said the project is “good for the planet, and good for (the county’s) bottom line.”

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