The Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to spend an estimated $5.2 million to add energy-efficient technology including a solar pool heating system and 27 electric vehicle (EV) charging spaces to the new community center under construction in the city's Belle Haven neighborhood.
A microgrid would generate solar electricity at the new community center and store extra solar energy in a battery for energy needs at night, and could provide clean backup power instead of a diesel-powered generator in the event of an emergency.
The energy equipment is expected to be designed, built, operated and maintained by contractor ENGIE Services Us. Inc. following a request for proposals issued in the spring, though the city manager is still negotiating some final details. The council also authorized an additional 10% of the project costs, about $500,000, to be set aside as a contingency. The resolution to approve the contractor is expected to be officially approved at the council's Dec. 14 meeting.
It's expected that the cost to construct the microgrid will be recovered by energy cost savings after about 18 years of the community center's operation, according to Sustainability Manager Rebecca Lucky.
Residents Lynne Bramlett and Pam Jones raised concerns that the public hadn't been notified or its input solicited sufficiently before the City Council discussed it. Bramlett asked how many residents in Belle Haven had electric cars to make use of 27 EV charging spaces.
According to a staff report, less than 3% of multifamily properties have access to charging at or near their homes.
Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, who represents Belle Haven, said she had hoped there would be better notifications about the plans to the community, including in Spanish.
Vice Mayor Betsy Nash said that there had been input from the community and desire expressed for the building to be environmentally sustainable, adding that avoiding using a diesel generator could have health benefits by improving the air quality around the community center. "The city is doing everything possible to make it as clean as possible and not contribute to the air quality issues that are there," she said.
Councilman Ray Mueller added that given the expected lifespan of the solar technology is 30 years, and that by 2035 all new cars will have to be electric, "I don't think there will be many cars on the road that won't be electric." He added that if the community doesn't want it, the city doesn't have to spend the money on the proposal.
"This is one of the most advanced clean energy projects on the Peninsula for a community center," he said.
Mayor Drew Combs said he was shocked by the cost of the project, but said he was willing to go along with it. "This is a community that has not been given historically as much resources," he said. Given the circumstances, "we should in this instance do all we could to make sure we got not only a top-quality project but a project that leaned into the future."
Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said that the project, while it poses significant upfront costs, is expected to ultimately save the city money in the long run. It seems, she said, "fiscally responsible to do this project."