Maricopa County completing solar energy project; largest solar installation downtown
Maricopa County is building what will become the largest solar array installation in downtown Phoenix, putting photovoltaic solar panel systems on three county-owned facilities this summer.
Once installed, more than 5,000 solar panels will produce enough energy to power 169 homes annually and offset gas emissions from 266 passenger cars every year. And over a 20-year period, the electricity generated is the equivalent of 59 million pounds of carbon dioxide. Over a 30-year period, county officials estimate an energy savings of $5 million.
"This is extremely exciting. For too long we have neglected the energy potential of over 300 days of sunshine each year," commented Supervisor Don Stapley, who has pushed solar energy development at the county. “We want to reduce our footprint on the environment. We see energy costs consume more of our tight budget. And we want to support our national energy and security goals.”
The first two projects are nearing completion:
- A 412 kilowatt solar system, installing 1680 individual solar panels atop the Elections Department – Sheriff’s Office Warehouse at 510 S. 3rd Avenue.
- A 542-KW system with 2,212 panels mounted on top of the Facilities Management Department Building and Parking Garage, at Fourth Avenue and Jefferson.
The third project will be a 312-KW system of 1,274 panels atop the Downtown Justice Center, at 6th Avenue and Jackson.
The project was first outlined to the board in 2010, while Stapley was board chairman. But according to current Board Chairman Max Wilson, “We took our time because the project demanded both the heavy work of installing different solar technology on different county buildings, but there were also some tricky economic, financial and administrative challenges that go with utilities, credits, the state and federal governments.”
The installation is being facilitated in part by the APS (Arizona Public Service) Renewable Energy Incentive Program, which offers financial incentives to customers who add renewable energy systems to their homes, businesses and offices. The program is funded by APS customers and approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The advantages to the county include:
- Solar generation (power sold to APS)
- Demand savings (less power purchased from APS)
- Radiant savings from mitigating direct sunlight on air conditioned buildings
- Mitigated roof damage from weather
- Covered parking on FMD garage rooftop
“The shaded parking is a nice bonus for our employees and fleet vehicles,” commented Supervisor Fulton Brock.
The three photovoltaic projects, combined with nine solar thermal installations on other county-owned buildings, bring Maricopa County government’s solar capacity to 4 MW, more than double the county’s original goal when it established its renewable clean energy program in 2008, as part of the Green Government Program.
“This project reflects the county philosophy to invest one-time monies to reduce future operating costs,” commented County Manager Tom Manos. “We will invest in the solar panels and have a very quick payback period through reduced electrical bills.”
Janet Palacino, director of the Facilities Management Department, oversaw the project. She credited Supervisor Stapley with coming up with the idea to take advantage of the Renewable Energy Standards Program adopted by the Arizona Corporation Commission that requires utilities to obtain 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.
The county has a nationally recognized Green Government sustainability program and has invested $25.3 million in an ongoing energy and water conservation construction project designed to pay for itself in utility savings, of which this solar photovoltaic system is a part.
The estimated lifetime (30 year) energy savings now stands at $17 million.
In 2008, Maricopa County set a goal to increase its clean, renewable energy production by 2 MW by 2015 while stabilizing its overall energy use. With the addition of these projects in 2012 to its existing renewable energy portfolio, the county will have exceeded its renewable energy portfolio by 100 percent, doubling it three years ahead of schedule.