The Danville Town Council is considering a solar power plan that could save the city up to $4 million in energy costs.
The plan would put solar panel carports at four town-owned sites: the town offices, Diablo Vista Park, Sycamore Valley Park and the adjacent maintenance center. Solar panels would offset 73 percent of the total electrical usage at those sites, said Development Services Director Steve Lake.
"(Solar panels) would result in the savings on the cost of electricity and, at the same time, provide shading for some of the vehicles that park at some of our facilities," Lake said, describing the results of a solar feasibility study conducted last year.
The town collectively spends an average of $12,000 a month on electricity for the sites in question, a number that could be drastically reduced depending on the way Danville decides to finance the project. Lake is currently weighing two options: a cash purchase that would have Danville act as an owner of the solar structure, or a power purchase agreement, in which the town would buy solar power from a third company.
With a cash purchase, the town would hire a company to build and install fixed solar panels at $1.8 million cost, which is offset by savings in electricity. Lake said the town can expect to save an average of $160,000 a year over 25 years, which is the life of the system. Solar panels at Diablo Vista Park, which is alternately beaten by and bathed in sunlight, will save $36,000 a year alone.
With a power purchase agreement, which should save over $2 million over the lifetime of the system, the town of Danville will sign an agreement that allows a company to build a solar structure on town property. The town would then buy electricity directly from that company at a discounted rate.
"We would immediately see a savings on our bill, but not as high as if we did a cash purchase," Lake said. "Our upfront investment is zero, but our savings will probably be on the order of $50,000 to $100,000."
If the town decides to go with a power purchase agreement -- a common occurrence among government facilities and private businesses that subsequently takes some of the peak energy load off PG&E -- officials would then have the option to buy the facility or have it removed at a future date.
Lake will present his recommendation to the Town Council on Aug. 14. He expects to break ground in late September. The solar arrays should take approximately two months to install.
Regardless of financing plan, Lake believes investment in solar power seems to be a smart move for Danville.
"If you want to go out and invest money in today's market, you're not going to get a very good return, but when you invest in energy, the rate of return on your investment starts climbing really rapidly," he said. "I expect to see a return on investment at five to 8 percent, which is a fairly good rate of return."
The town of Danville's feasibility study looked at six additional sites including the Railroad Avenue parking lot, Osage Station Park and the library and community center; all were deemed inappropriate or ineffectual based on aesthetics, economic efficiency and maintenance costs.