Hamilton Solar Carport FAQs

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Site Selection

Q: Was the City’s consideration of sites only based on cost?

A: Consideration of suitable sites was based on a Solar Feasibility Study prepared for the City for participation in the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Program. The criteria for site evaluation included electrical usage at the site, physical space available for photovoltaic installation, accessibility of the site for construction, existing conditions at the site including age of the building and structural and electrical limitations, planned energy or structural renovations, as well as surrounding vegetation and other shading concerns, plus current and future uses of site.

Q: Why was the current site selected?

A: The staff report to City Council for the November 18, 2014 meeting describes the selection process. There were two finalist sites considered for construction to offset utility costs for the Hamilton Pool: (a) Site #11, the location of the current carport structure, and (b) Site #9, a “ground mount structure” which would have been located on the hillside above the lower parking lot. Site #9 was not chosen because it would have required tree removals, security fencing, and panels that were positioned to face the homes along Hanger Avenue which was thought to be more impactful to the adjacent neighbors in Southgate. Site #11 was ultimately chosen as the preferred site for several reasons: (1) the structure would also serve to provide covered parking, (2) it would not require security fencing, (3) it has an ideal proximity to the pool’s electrical services, (4) it is set back from the street, and (5) its panels are directed away from the residential neighborhood. Sites identified at the Pool’s upper parking lot presented other challenges to the project. Page 6 of the Solar Feasibility Study describes all of the sites considered for the Hamilton Pool facility.

Q: Why wasn’t the upper parking lot considered?

A: Sites #1-#7, located at the upper parking lot of the pool (also called the BOQ site) was not recommended for several reasons: (1) the installation would be more expensive to build due to difficult electrical access; (2) because the BOQ property and parking lot was being considered within the Lands to Parks transfer negotiations and future development of the site is unknown; and (3) none of the unique sites identified on the upper parking lot were estimated to produce as much electricity as the sites on the lower parking lot due to shading by trees. The Solar Feasibility Study analyzed the electrical needs of the facility and recommended that the solar power size necessary to offset the annual utility costs would be approximately 49 kW. Each of the upper parking lot sites were estimated at between 18 to 36 kW systems size. The only two sites considered feasible by the City and the consultant were the current site (Site #11), and the hillside slightly west of the lower parking lot (Site #9).

Q: Aren’t there already solar panels on the building located at the pool? Why wasn’t the existing solar power system expanded?

A: The system on the building is a roof-mounted, circulating solar water-heating system which provides hot water for the washroom/showers and for the pool. The solar carport system is designed to provide power for the pool pumps, lights, electronics, etc. and will off-set the annual utility costs for the facility. The existing water-heating system will continue to help heat pool water, however it does not offset the other significant electrical demands for lights, pumps and filtering equipment. The new solar power project will generate an estimated $18,000 per year of electricity, essentially eliminating PG&E charges to the facility.

Q: Why do we need a solar structure on such a grand scale to support a pool that has only seasonal use?

A: The Solar Feasibility Study analyzed the electrical needs of the facility and recommended that the solar power size necessary to offset the annual utility costs would be approximately 49 kW. The size of the solar carport is a 46.8 kW system.


Project Review and Neighbor Outreach

Q: Did the project go through Design Review? If not, why not?

A: No, the project did not go through the Design Review process. The 19-acre parcel on which the pool, park and solar carport are located is designated Parkland, and is not subject to the same regulations as residential structures. The section of the Zoning Code that triggers Design Review relates to the properties zoned for residential use, Table 4-2, Applicability of Design Review. This table addresses design review requirements on private property, but does not address new structures on City-owned property which are typically exempt from zoning regulations. Projects such as home additions and new residential accessory structures are also not subject to Design Review or required to have a noticed public hearing. The City Council is considering revising the noticing requirements for public projects as part of the City's improved community outreach efforts.

Q: Why not apply the same (residential) standard for accessory structures?

A: The City’s Zoning Code limits the height and coverage of residential accessory structures due to the typically small size and proximity of residential lots. As a Capital Improvement Project (CIP), the solar carport project is City project and not subject to Design Review or legally required to have notices mailed to the neighbors. As is typical for CIP, the project was publicly noticed and reviewed at a City Council meeting for the funding and project approval. Typical public notification for Council items includes posting the agenda in print and electronically, with the project being listed, a minimum of 72 hours prior to the meeting. The City Council is considering revising the noticing requirements for public projects as part of the City’s improved community outreach efforts.

Q: Why didn't neighbors receive a notice for this project?

A: The City of Novato often provides neighbors with mailed postcard noticing for Capital Improvement Projects as a courtesy, beyond the formal legal requirements to do so. However, for the solar carport project, immediate neighbors were not mailed a courtesy notice because the City mistakenly relied on the Hamilton Forum and the Hamilton Field Homeowners Association for neighbor notification. Unfortunately, not everyone who is affected by the project is either a member of the Forum or of the HOA, and they did not know about the project until it was being constructed. In hindsight, the City acknowledges that a postcard notice to neighbors should have been mailed. The City Council is considering revising the noticing requirements for public projects as part of the City’s improved community outreach efforts.

Q: Why wasn’t the design compatible with Hamilton architecture?

A: The design of the solar carport is a standard design for this type of structure. The City did not consider the design guidelines for Hamilton when reviewing this project because the feedback received at the Hamilton Forum meeting did not include any criticism of the carport design. However, there are ways to mitigate the current design and, in response to neighbor concerns, the City is considering several design alternatives, including painting, adding landscape screening, and adjusting the slope of the roof to reduce the profile and height of the structure.

Q: Did the Hamilton Forum review the project?

A: Yes, City staff presented the project to the Hamilton Forum on October 8, 2014. Although the turnout at the meeting was small, the feedback received was positive overall for the solar carport project. Of the two lower parking lot sites that were discussed in depth, meeting attendees identified the carport structure as having a better overall aesthetic and fewer neighborhood impacts than the proposed hillside ground-mount system.

Q: Did the City consult with the Army Corps of Engineers in developing this solar plan to protect wildlife?

A: No, the City did not consult with the Army Corps or with any other federal or state agency on this project. The City is aware of the national scientific studies that address solar power projects. Large solar installations (solar farms) can be misconstrued by flying birds as the reflective surface of water bodies, which is not the case with small installations such as the Hamilton solar carport. Concentrated solar power installations such as one built in the Mojave Desert that focus mirror-concentrated solar energy onto a thermal collection device have been found to kill birds flying in the path of the focused sunlight. This system is also not similar to the photovoltaic panel technology used for the Hamilton solar carport.

Q: What were the neighbor concerns about the project?

A: Some Hamilton neighbors have expressed concerns about the project, including a public noticing process that failed to adequately inform residents directly impacted by the project and failed to accurately identify the location of the project. Public notices that were sent to the Hamilton Forum and the Hamilton Fields HOA described a solar project at Hamilton Pool rather than at South Hamilton Park, giving the false impression that the project was being built at the upper parking lot or on the pool building. In particular, Southgate residents were upset that they did not receive a mailed notice about the project and were unaware of the project until construction began.

Some Hamilton neighbors  have also expressed concerns regarding the size and appearance of the solar carport. Although the design is typical for a solar carport structure, some neighbors believe that the structure is incompatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood and inconsistent with the predominant Hamilton architecture. The City Council is considering revising the noticing requirements for public projects as part of the City's improved community outreach efforts. 

Q: How and when will a final decision be made?

A: The City Council will hold a public meeting on the project, tentatively scheduled for late June. Hamilton residents have been sent a mailed notice inviting them to participate in a feedback survey regarding their preference for solar carport project alternatives. Other Novato residents will be invited to participate via electronic notification of the survey and site signage which will announce the City’s topic webpage novato.org/hamiltonsolar. In addition to the survey results, Council will consider all other feedback in their decision-making as to a final resolution which may include removal, relocation or retention at the same site with painting and landscaping to reduce the visual impacts of the structure.

Q: How will the survey be used?

A: The survey will be used to provide Council with feedback about preferred project alternatives for the solar carport. The survey includes a required field to identify each respondent’s address so that the Council can consider the immediate neighbor preferences, the project preferences of the greater Hamilton community, and the preferences of other City residents. In addition to the survey results, Council will consider all other feedback in their decision-making as to a final resolution which may include removal, relocation or retention at the same site with painting and landscaping to reduce the visual impacts of the structure.


Project Costs

Q: What would be the costs to dismantle and/or relocate the solar carport?

A: The City is evaluating several options regarding the solar carport location. These options are itemized and described in the Hamilton Solar Carport Project Alternatives.

Q: Where would costs to remedy come from, e.g., Measure F/Measure C, CFD, fundraising or solar company fundraising?

A: Measure F funding was used to construct the solar carport because the project is a one-time investment to reduce the City’s ongoing utility costs and reduce City expenditures. The funding source for any proposed remedies or mitigation measures would be decided by City Council.

Q: How much of the Hamilton Pool’s annual utility costs will be off-set by the solar power system?

A: The solar power system will almost entirely offset the approximately $18,000 per year electricity bill for Hamilton Pool. The size of the system is designed to offset just under 100% of the annual electricity used. If the system were to produce more energy than the facility uses, the City would receive some credit for the excess, but the compensation would be at approximately half of the average annual retail price.

Ultimate savings will depend on the actual rates imposed by PG&E during the time the solar power system is in use, as well as the actual energy usage at the Hamilton Pool facility. Average PG&E prices per kWh had remained fixed before the electrical utilities were deregulated around the year 2000. Since then, after several years of rapidly fluctuating prices, energy prices have now settled into a general upward trend that has averaged around a 4% increase per year. Assuming the same 4% average annual escalation, the City of Novato would spend an estimated $755,207 over a 25-year time period to provide electricity to the Hamilton Pool facility.

Q: What is the expected life of the system?

A: A well-maintained system is expected to last from 25 to as long as 40 years. It is a straightforward technology that is easily maintained. The City installation is made from high quality modules from a U.S. based manufacturer that are guaranteed to perform efficiently for 25 years. The estimated simple payback period for this system would be approximately 10 years with the system expected to perform efficiently for at least 25 years. Over this 25 year period, the City would save an estimated $469,554 in energy-related costs for the original project.

Q: What are the on-going maintenance costs for this project?

A: The cost for regular operation and maintenance of the system is projected to be $702 in year one with a 3% annual escalation. Original operation and maintenance costs calculated over 25 years (including the one-time inverter replacement cost of $15,102 in year 15) is $32,903. Additional costs including painting and landscape maintenance (for new trees) would be approximately $750 per year, or $18,750 over the 25 year life of the system.


Technical Questions

Q: What is the SEED Program?

A: The SEED (Strategic Energy and Economic Development) Fund Program was formed by a local non-profit, Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI), and an independent solar consulting firm, Optony, Inc. Partially funded by the California Solar Initiative, the SEED Fund was designed to enable a group of local public partners to install new solar power projects, helping to reduce total energy costs and create measurable environmental benefits.

The SEED Fund provides Optony’s professional services with no upfront cost in order to help agencies assess solar potential for facilities, and provides a bidding mechanism that allows for group discounts through collaboration with other agencies. The SEED Fund team conducted the feasibility studies for each site, performed much of the work around development of the RFP, and helped answer questions for both potential vendors and the selection committee reviewing proposals. It should be noted that Optony is not affiliated with any solar contractors and does not build solar PV systems, thus maintaining an impartial relationship in the bid and selection process.

Participation in the SEED Fund was approved by Council on May 7, 2013. Please see staff report and video from the May 7, 2013 City Council meeting for more information.

Q: Why was this contractor selected?

A: The staff report to City Council for the November 18, 2014 meeting describes the history of the SEED Program, the benefits, and the contractor/vendor selection process. The design/build contractor was selected by the non-profit SEED Project staff as the most qualified service provider to construct all of the SEED projects throughout Sonoma and Marin counties. The specific contract with Danlin Solar was approved by the City Council prior to design and construction.

Q: What are the environmental benefits of the Hamilton Solar Carport project?

A: Reducing energy use through energy retrofits to buildings and facilities is a measurable emission reduction strategy to meet target Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals. As reported in the 2009 CAP, for the baseline year of 2005, Novato municipal operations emitted approximately 2,329 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e). Municipal buildings and facilities account for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions from city operations. The installation of a 46.8 kW solar power system at Hamilton Pool is estimated to offset 1,274 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the system, equivalent to taking 14.8 cars off the road for 25 years, or planting 24.1 acres of trees.

Over 25 years (the expected life of the system), the solar power generated is estimated to offset:

  • 2, 808,692 lbs of CO2 (greenhouse gas)
  • 9,016 lbs of NOx (smog)
  • 8,161 lbs of SOx (acid rain)
  • 555 lbs of particulates (asthma)
  • 4,571,331 miles in an average car, or 182,853 miles per year

Q: What is the difference between Net Metering and a Feed-in-Tariff System?

A: The difference between a solar power system whose purpose is to offset the electricity usage at a facility and a system whose purpose is to generate excess electricity to “sell back to the grid” is the difference between Net Energy Metering (NEM) and a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT).

Net Energy Metering (NEM) allows the City to offset electricity usage on-site, and additional exported energy is credited at the utility rate we would otherwise pay at that time. This gives very high value (~$0.55/kWh) during peak summer times. Over the course of a full year, the average value of solar production in the first year will be about $0.25/kWh.

Solar power systems produce their greatest output during the time of day and season when PG&E has the highest demand spike in customer loads. During peak rate time of PG&E tariffs, solar energy is producing at maximum production. Net Metering measures the difference between the electricity delivered by PG&E and the electricity produced by the solar power system. Under Net Metering, any excess electricity produced by the solar power system is delivered back into the utility grid, effectively spinning the meter backwards. The meter spins forwards when the solar energy system is not producing all of the electricity that is being used. The electric meter keeps track of the net difference as electricity is generated and consumed at the facility. Facilities with solar power are able to not only eliminate peak demand spikes but also can be credited back for those premium tariff times when the solar power system is producing the highest amount of electricity.

With Feed-n-Tariff (FIT), the electricity bill for the facility remains unchanged, because the electricity is sent directly to the grid (utility side of the meter), rather than to the facility (customer side of the meter). The City could sell this energy, but the overall value would be significantly lower than with NEM. The current market rate for FIT payments are only about $0.12/kWh. Using the solar carport project size and cost to construct as an example, the estimated payback period would be closer to 20 years rather than 8-10 years.

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