Thousand Oaks’ second solar installation up and running

The area’s recent hot spell may be sending residents running for shade, but the sunny skies are also fueling the city’s newest solar panel installation.

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, September 6, 2012

Completed in June atop the Hillcrest Center—home to the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Hillcrest Center for the Arts and the National Park Service— the 600-panel system is now fully functional and generating around 1,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day, according to Liz Perez, facilities manager for the City of Thousand Oaks.

“(The solar panels) are producing what we predicted, about 60 percent of the site needs,” she said.

PLUGGED IN—Formerly used for parking, the roof of the Hillcrest Center is now covered with 600 electricity-producing solar panels that are generating enough power to meet 60 percent of the building’s needs.

The Hillcrest Center, which the city leases to CRPD and the park service, joins the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant as the second city-owned facility to operate on solar energy.

The $1.3-million Hillcrest system, which was green lit by the City Council in February 2011 after years of looking for workable solar sites, is expected to save T.O. at least $60,000 a year in energy costs, Perez said.

Much of the panels’ costs will be covered by separate entities.

Around $680,000 of the price tag was paid for with federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Additionally, the California Solar Initiative, a rebate program sponsored by the Public Utilities Commission, will provide the city with more than $400,000 in rebates over the next 60 months.

“As the system produces power, we get money back,” Perez said of the initiative.

Ultimately, the city’s general fund will cover only $220,000 of the project’s total cost, she said.

Councilmember Claudia Billde la Peña, who was a part of the unanimous vote in favor of the solar installation, said the money was well-spent.

“Unlike at the Newbury Park Library (where a solar panel project was abandoned), this solar panel system is not really visible, and the benefits from solar energy speak for themselves,” she said.

Bill-de la Peña said it is possible that the council will approve future solar projects, but “only if it made (fiscal) sense.”

The Hillcrest solar installation didn’t come without its share of hurdles.

In February, after terminating its contract with original contractor SHE Engineering and Construction over claims of faulty workmanship and lack of cooperation, the city hired Smith Electronic Service to take over the installation process.

“They did a great job,” Perez said of the Santa Maria-based company, which completed its work in June on schedule.

In May, SHE attorney Jonathan Dekel denied claims of poor workmanship and said the Reseda-based company was considering taking legal action against the city.

But on Tuesday, city attorney Tracy Noonan said the city has not been served.

Despite the threat of a lawsuit against the city, building tenants are pleased to see the solar project completed.

Kate Kuykendall, public affairs officer with the National Park Service, said the organization is delighted by Thousand Oaks’ efforts to use sustainable energy.

“As tenants, it’s really important to us that we’re practicing what we preach in protecting natural resources,” she said. “The National Park Service is committed to ‘greening’ our parks.”

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