A popular city facility with a huge electricity bill would get about a quarter of its power from the sun if city voters agree to spend money on a photovoltaic generation project at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.
About $1.8 million for the solar panels and infrastructure is the biggest single project proposed as one of three questions on the March 6 city ballot. If approved, the $3.8 million measure would authorize the city to borrow money repayable through property taxes on homes and businesses.
Packed with the energy project under the heading of "sustainable environment bonds" is a list of waterways and drainage features that would get about $2 million worth of attention.
Upgrades to more than 50 arroyo drainage features include work to address problems caused by erosion and sediment buildup in Arroyo Cabra, Arroyo de la Piedra, Arroyo de los Chamisos, Arroyo de los Pinos, Arroyo en Medio, Arroyo Mascaras, Arroyo Mora, Arroyo Rosario, Arroyo Saiz, Canada Ancha and the Santa Fe River.
Printed materials describing the projects say they will improve watershed health by correcting substandard drainage, allowing more water to recharge the aquifer and reduce flood risk. City staff would likely do some of the work, City Manager Robert Romero told the City Council during a recent meeting, but contracts could be issued for larger or more technical projects.
The reasons officials selected the Chavez Center for the proposed solar project are because it's a high-electricity user and it is a visible community asset.
"This facility could use a nice, stable price for electricity," said city Housing and Community Development Director Nick Schiavo, adding later, "We need to continue to reduce our carbon footprint. This is definitely a way to do that. This [would] take a huge swipe off the carbon footprint for that facility."
The plan is to mount panels on a carport-style cover for part of the center's parking lot. Traditional rooftop panels won't work there, he said, because of the building's curved roof.
While the bond money is estimated to cover the purchase of panels and installation cost, additional capital funds could be required to dig trenches for connecting the power panels to the center, he said. The system probably wouldn't be installed until 2015.
Unlike capital spending on amenities and maintenance, this bond project also has a unique promise -- that it will pay for itself. Based on Schiavo's calculations, the money saved in energy costs and acquired through renewable-energy credits will completely offset the investment in the solar panels within 15 years -- sooner if power prices spike with economic or environmental changes.
"There's always a chance that they could solve nuclear fusion and the price of electricity would go down, but I don't see that happening," he said.
What's more likely, he said, is that environmental challenges with Public Service Co. of New Mexico's current coal-based energy production will lead to the company spending more on power generation and passing those costs to customers.
The city has installed three photovoltaic systems at its facilities in recent years and expects two more to come online by next September without making any real capital investment. The Chavez Center project, however, would be up to eight times larger than those individual facilities and, unlike the prior projects, would be fully funded on the front end by the local government.
The system will be designed to generate 600,000 kilowatt-hours each year that won't appear on the city's electricity bills -- about a quarter of the electricity that the Chavez Center sucks up annually.
Considering both energy production and renewable credits, Schiavo estimates the city will come away with an "energy value" of $93,129 in the first year that the system is operating. Based on an annual power price increase of 4 percent, he says the city will realize payback during the system's 15th year.
Most of the 10 people campaigning for City Council seats in the election have voiced support for this bond question, even those who have raised questions about two other larger spending proposals. The local Sierra Club also is advocating for its passage.
When city councilors approved sending the question to voters, however, Councilor Matthew Ortiz said the solar project and drainage projects seemed too unrelated -- creating a bond configuration politicians call "logrolling."
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: "Shall the City of Santa Fe issue up to $3,800,000 of general obligation bonds to acquire, install, construct, upgrade and improve sustainable environment projects, including renewable energy, arroyo drainage and watershed security projects?"
Key projects: Solar-energy array for the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, restoration projects on eroded arroyos.
Estimated tax impact on a $300,000 house: $9 per year. (Two other bond questions will appear on the March 6 ballot: $14 million for parks and trails and $5 million for public safety, bringing the total estimated tax increase, if all three questions are approved, to about $54 for a home valued at $300,000.)
Big picture: The city of Santa Fe is already repaying general obligation bonds it issued after voters in 2008 approved $30 million in spending for parks improvements. The principal now stands at $27.7 million. Under the current repayment schedule, which calls for the first bond issue to be retired in 2028, the borrowing will cost taxpayers $10.4 million in interest. If all three new proposals are approved, the city's total general obligation debt would be at about $50.5 million and wouldn't be paid off for 30 years. The general obligation bonding capacity is $144 million.
For more information: The city has posted spreadsheets and other details about the bond proposals on its website at www.santafenm.gov. Click on "March 6 Opportunity Bonds" on the left.
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