Menlo scraps plan for solar panels on new gym


An interesting subplot to the story of the Burgess Gym construction appears to be nearing a close, with Menlo Park city management recommending against installing solar panels on the Burgess Gymnasium.

Originally, the city had said that John Arrillaga, the Palo Alto billionaire who is building the gym for the city and paying for the bulk of its construction, would provide solar panels. When that turned out not to be the case, management asked the City Council to approve city funds for the panels, saying the city would eventually make its money back on the investment.

At the insistence of Councilman John Boyle, the council asked city staff to study the project a little more before authorizing the funds. And, in fact, staff found that the project wouldn't pencil out -- it would take 48 years for the city to recoup its investment, not the 15 or 20 originally predicted.

The lack of solar panels creates a problem, because it could jeopardize the building's attainment of LEED Silver certification, an expensive process that the city is paying for. Accordingly, management is recommending other measures that would count on the "LEED Scorecard": upgrading heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, and installing dimmers for the lights, which would cost less than the solar panels and recoup the city's investment more quickly.

The council will consider the issue at its meeting Tuesday, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, located in the Civic Center complex.

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Posted by Appreciative Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Thank you, Councilman Boyle, for your request for hard data on the solar panels before reflexively authorizing funding for them, simply because it "feels good" to do something "green". I find it "illuminating" (pun intended) that solar panels will not earn their cost for 48 years, nearly a half century. I question why even LEED Silver certification is such an important goal for the city for this new facility. Much of these "environmentally sound" actions are not well-grounded in either science or economics.

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Posted by plan ahead
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm

While it may not currently be cost-effective to install solar panels on the gym, the building should be built and wired to easily receive them in the future, as costs are expected to go down. This is being planned for the Bahannon gateway project. It's just smart. Same goes for installing "purple pipes" for greywater outflow in the future.

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Posted by stunned
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I'd love to see those hard numbers. If solar panels can't pay for themselves within the times advertised by solar companies, then a lot of companies are going to go out of business leasing these systems for less than the cost of the equivalent energy.

Could it be that dear old PG&E is not willing to give Menlo Park a good rate on the electricity that would be pumped back into the grid or, did the city figure to use a battery system?? Perhaps there is no buy back from the state if a city is buying the panels?

Seems to me there are a few questions to be answered as to why solar is making sense to homeowners, but a city can't manage it. (Granted they don't have the money up front, so... lease and don't install more production than you can use since PG&E is refusing to pay anyone a reasonable rate for extra electricity)

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Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Think of the future, the environment and the message you are sending to our children and others. Install the solar panels!

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Posted by Linfield Larry
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

My understanding is that solar panels make economic sense only if the purchaser benefits from associated tax credits.

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Posted by Put It In, City Council
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 17, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Anyone who knows anything about economics knows that projecting out 20-40 years is just a wild ass guess - change a number here and there (future interest rate, future price of electricity) and you can get it to "pencil out" either way.

More to the point - what is the cost of the system itself and what fraction of the overall cost is it? My guess is a very small fraction, in which case it should be put in, Mr. Anti-Environmentalist Boyle be damned!

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Posted by Arlen Comfort
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Air-conditioning in Menlo Park? Is that a necessary expense? How many of us have it in our homes? Few, I would think. Yes, it could get hot inside a gym with lots of activity. Why not big blowers to move lots of air on the few occasions when it gets a little hot outside?

Wouldn't that be the same as playing a game of basketball on a shaded court on a breezy hot day? Tennis, baseball and other outdoor athletes make it work. Are the users of the gym unable to handle the warm weather that the outdoor sports people do?

I bet the athletes could stand a little heat if there was just plenty of air circulation.

In my (humble and cheaper is better) view there are only a few days of the year that any well insulated building in Menlo Park needs air conditioning.
This would be a cleaner, greener, cheaper building without air-conditioning. Why not shoot for a building that is as good as any breezy shaded area in Menlo Park?

Menlo Park is blessed with cool nights. Could you use a crawl space under the building to store cool air to be used in the few hours of the few days that it would be needed?

If you must, just leave space for air-conditioning as you plan ahead for a future . . . just in case those who think hotter days are a-coming are right.

Could you use the air-conditioning funds for extra insulation or windows that open and close automatically?

Just wondering.

A. Comfort

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Posted by Way To Go Boyle!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm

No "Concerned Taxpayer" and "Put It In", this is not a good idea. Unless of course you want to pay for it. John Boyle is not an "anti-environmentalist", that's ridiculous, he is just being fiscally responsible, something that I don't believe either one of you are considering. If it makes sense economically, and the "concerned taxpayers" are paying for it, then by all means put up windmills, solar panels, etc. It's the extreme cases of "environmentalism" that is slowly, but surely bankrupting this state. Most of the ideas are good ones, they help keep California beautiful, but this one just doesn't cut it, period. We can keep demanding things of new construction, and new companies, and new regulations for businesses, all in the name of "environmentalism" but if we don't keep in check the BAD ideas, we will continue to have businesses, and opportunities leave this state in droves. We have to stop this nonsense!

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Posted by Bruce
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

There are companies in the Bay Area which will install solar panels virually for free but will own them (per a contract) and lease them or something like that to the building owner. The electric-bill savings then will be more than the leasing bill and the building owner comes out ahead. I think that's the way it works !! This only works when the electric bill savings exceeds the lease cost. It wasn't practical on my home because it's just my wife and I, but if you've got kids, etc., have have electric powered stove-top burners, stove, clothes drier, water heater etc. it becomes very practical.

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Posted by missing the point
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

What we are not discussing is how the city will be able to accomplish the LEED certification for which they are spending $250,000 (for a piece of paper).

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Posted by stunned
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

So there's a need to move hot air out of the building? Perhaps they should look into solar powered fans. Just the cost of NOT installing all the electrical lines saves the cost of the fans themselves.

Leasing a small section of panels would get the full value of the electricity produced as long as they don't try to power the whole building with solar. The cost of leasing should be LESS then the cost of the electricity. Of course you have to get PG&E to pay you what they are charging in middle of the day to compensate you. Why would they not be willing to do this for the city of Menlo Park when they do it for their residential customers.

There is certainly a way to incorporate solar in some way without adding to the cost of the building.

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Posted by passive solar works too
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Active solar is not always a good answer. Better - good ventilation and operable windows, taking advantage of cool nights as others pointed out, and selecting a site orientation to get solar gain in the winter and avoid sunlight in summer with the help of deciduous trees.
It is good sense to pre-wire and pre-plumb for various things that could be much more advantageous in the future. The cost is modest now during construction, but can be quite expensive if a retrofit.

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Posted by Photon
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

As most of the incentives that make solar energy practical are taxed based (Federal Investment Tax Credit of 30% and 5-year accelerated depreciation), solar rarely makes sense as an outright purchase by a non-tax paying entity. Depending on the size of the solar project, specialized renewable finance options may be available. These structures allow government agencies to indirectly capture the tax benefits associated with solar and could allow MP to get solar without additional upfront costs while saving money on electricity.

The trick is getting a large enough project together (typically a minimum of $2.5M in solar).

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Posted by Guest
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2010 at 10:47 pm

PG&E gouges residential customers at $0.40 per kwhr or more while commercial customers pay rates more like $0.15 per kwhr. Some businesses pay less and people who use little electricity pay less. When you combine the gross overcharging of some residential customers with the tax credits then residential solar starts to make sense.

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Posted by Ace
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Get with it Menlo Park! This is the 21st Century! We need to reduce pollution for the benefit of the surrounding community and to reduce global warming. First you allow people to build willy nilly without thinking of the transportation consequences and now this. Start thinking long term!

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Posted by Martha Beattie
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

Proposition 16 is a cynical and misleading effort by PG&E, a for-profit corporation, to protect its business from competition.

Cities like Santa Clara have enjoyed lower electricity costs by being able to purchase cheaper power using its own utility, Silicon Valley Power, for more than 100 years.

If Proposition 16 passes, there would be less chance for communities to get cheaper electric power or take advantage of more renewable or less-polluting sources than they now receive from their current utility, PG&E. Such opportunities would be all but impossible with the super-majority rule required by Proposition 16.

PG&E is spending tens of millions of its shareholders' dollars — collected from ratepayers — to promote this measure, and will continue to spend whatever it takes to defeat any measure that would cut into its business.

The San Jose-Santa Clara League of Women Voters urges you: Vote NO on Proposition 16.

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Posted by Question Ace
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 21, 2010 at 11:24 am

Just a couple of questions Ace:
* Menlo Park is THE MOST restrictive town on the peninsula when it comes to building, so what the heck are you talking about??
* Do YOU have solar panels on your pretty little home in Atherton?
* Do YOU bike and walk everywhere you go, or drive a Prius?
* Do YOU collect rain water for irrigating your beautiful lawn?
It's very easy to point fingers, when you already have what you want. Please stop the hypocracy. Our town is attempting to make the best sound FISCAL decision possible. You can take it to the environmental extreme, if you'd like, but this took all of that into account and made a sound decision. If we had some "extra money" in the till, perhaps this would have happened, and quite frankly it would have been nice, but we do not have that right now. Unless, YOU would like to pay the extra dollars to install them??? We'd take that.

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Posted by solar works
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2014 at 10:22 am

"it would take 48 years for the city to recoup its investment, not the 15 or 20 originally predicted."

Someone needed a new pencil. That's really sad they couldn't do the math.

I installed solar years ago and it's all paid for. Just added a 2nd freezer in the garage and frankly didn't have to worry about energy costs because I don't pay an electric bill. Switched as many as possible gas appliances to electric for the same reason.

I probably won't pay for electricity the rest of my life.

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Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2014 at 11:24 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Solar works:

This story is 4 years old (costs have plummeted) and they calced this even before the story. You also used the 33% tax rebate to offset cost, MPK doesn't pay taxes, and they pay less for power than you do (bulk pricing) so their payoff will inevitably be longer.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't be good citizens and do it anyway.


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