What would be the largest solar energy project in Sonoma County, generating enough electricity for 10,000 homes, is being planned for vacant land at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
"The goal is to get renewable energy projects started here in Sonoma County and get local jobs in this arena," said Cordel Stillman, the capital projects manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
In addition, the airport is planning its own solar installations to provide electricity to the administration building, terminal and runway and security lighting.
"We have been looking into doing our own solar, but we are not super far along," said Jon Stout, airport manager. "We have identified what we need and we are working on bid specifications."
Both projects are still a year or two away from construction.
The water agency's plan by far is the most ambitious and would create a 50-acre solar park that would generate 20 megawatts of power, the biggest solar project in Sonoma County.
Under the plan, the water agency has chosen SunEdison of Belmont to install 54,700 solar panels on the western side of the airport, at a cost of about $100 million.
The next largest project is a $12 million, 3 megawatt solar park that is being proposed in Cloverdale by Cenergy Power, a Modesto- and Carlsbad-based company that specializes in solar installations for agricultural uses.
A megawatt is considered enough for about 500 homes.
Under the Water Agency plan, SunEdison would pay for the installation and own the solar park, with the agency as the guaranteed buyer of the electricity that is produced, according to the plan.
In turn, Stillman said, the Water Agency will resell the power, possibly to the Marin Energy Authority, PG&E or to Community Choice Aggregation, a program under consideration by Sonoma County to develop renewable energy resources.
"The power purchase agreement is very common in the renewable energy business," Stillman said. "Even rooftop systems for homes are done with power purchase agreements. The company that installs the solar owns the system and the homeowner purchases the power."
The cost to Sonoma County for this project is the staff time by the Water Agency and an environmental impact report, estimated to be $150,000, which Stillman said would be recouped during the resale of power.
SunEdison would lease the land for the solar arrays from the airport, which could be $400,000 a year, Stout said.
The airport's own plan is to put solar on the terminal, which could generate enough to supply 50 percent of the power needs, and on the administration building, which would meet 90 percent of the needs.
Additionally, solar would be put on open hangars on the south side of the airport to provide electricity for the runway lights, and on open land near the largest apron to power the security lighting.
The airport has applied for an FAA grant that would cover 90 percent of the cost, estimated to be $750,000.
The airport is also planning on replacing some outside lights with highly efficient ceramic metal halide lights. The project would cost $72,000, but qualifies for a $16,000 PG&E subsidy.
The solar and new lights would save the airport about $70,000 a year in energy costs, Stout said.
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