WatchSonoma Watch

50-acre airport solar array planned



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.

The Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (PD FILE, 2011)

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.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

14 Responses to “50-acre airport solar array planned”

  1. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @BAJ – sure, solar does not always produce electricity, but it does produce electricity when the demand is highest – on hot sunny days when everyone has their AC running. Solar means PG&E need not run their most polluting and inefficient plants at peak demand. It means less coal produced electricity needs to be imported to California.

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  2. BigDogatPlay says:

    I wonder if anyone is doing any work on positioning all these panels so that none of them create a reflective glare that interferes with pilot’s ability to see.

    After all, it would just suck to have a couple of planes collide in the pattern and fall into the “free” solar park.

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  3. Frank says:

    I wonder how many types of fun activities can be done in a solar panel farm, anybody you’re all welcome to chime in
    OK, now how many boring meaningless activities can we think of with all that’s backed up at a hydro plant?

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  4. Reality Check says:

    Correction: The use of solar power worldwide is trending upward as the cost of government subsidies trend higher.

    The fact is we don’t know what the use of solar power would be if users had to pay the cost of solar power. That it’s more popular when something else pays part of the cost is not surprising.

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  5. Skippy says:

    How strongly must the wind blow to knock down the solar cells?
    How many US tax $$ will be spent to design, build, test, certify, install, maintain and replace these cells?
    Don’t get me wrong; if solar and wind and algae and unicorns can be developed as permanent, affordable replacements for proven energy sources, I’m sure proven energy producers will be the first to invest and install them.
    When Big Govt thinks it’s smarter than folks with an economic interest in an issue, place one hand on your wallet and the other on the door; it’s usually a make-work corporate cronyism arrangement at best, and outrageous corruption at worst.

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  6. Dan J Drummond says:

    The use of solar power worldwide is trending upward, as the price trends downward.
    Solar power good for America = thumbs-up
    Solar power bad for America = thumbs-down

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  7. Reality Check says:

    “The county is not paying for this thing other than for the EIR.”

    But what is it costing the public? Is that not a relevant question? Believe me, this isn’t free. It is time to take the blinders off. We have a debt problem in this country.

    Is the public good advanced because Sonoma County gets something for free while the country goes bankrupt? For the answer, one need only look at the last election.

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  8. brown act Jack says:

    TERRY, where does the solar array get the power when it rains, and at night?

    From good old PGandE, unless, of course, they have power generators, fueled by fossil fuels, at the site!

    Now why should any company agree to provide electricity when they have to buy it from fossil fuel plants in time of no sunshine?

    Guess what! The get paid by the government to do it, and where does that money come from, Your pocketss!

    It is really strange, that the only time you need lights is at night when the sun is not shining, or producing power to the solar array, isn’t it?

    Oh, I know, they store the energy somewhere when they don’t need it.

    No, they sell it to the PGand E in the day, buy it back at a profit when needed , and make money on the sale to PGandE , buy it back at a cheaper rate when needed, and then sell it to the consumers and make a profit on the resale.

    And that makes it cheaper for the consumer?


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  9. brown act Jack says:

    An , for the benefit of the greens, what happens to the flora and fauna on that 50 acre site?

    Oh, it is only 50 acres and the animals are not worth saving, and the flora is not worth saving, and we NEED green energy to save the world!

    So, we import panels from China, let them pollute the world producing the panels, and sit, smug, here declaring that we are saving GHG , which , of course, will come here from China and eliminate our savings.

    wisdom vanishes with beliefs.

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  10. brown act Jack says:

    TERRY. A question or two. You need not answer if you don’t feel it supports your position.
    The Solar Array is in business and providing energy, and we have 5 days of cloudS, where does the Solar Panel get the electricity to provide to the consumers?

    Guess what! Good old PG and E will be their source, or another public utility, right?

    And they have to make a profit, don’t they?

    So they have to pass those costs on to the consumers, right? And that meaans the electricity will cost the consumers more!

    Oh, they will have back up generators, or batteries, or something, all of which will cost money.

    the only way they can do that electricity is with government subsidies, and , of course, government money is free money and they will make money using the free money!

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  11. Frank says:

    an already established industry (specialized) that has been providing abundance of cheap elec for decades is slowly being choked out of existence. Might I point out almost 0% pollution rate on air
    care to venture a thought on the pollution factor of solar panels, could explain why we only assemble here in California
    for those that fear Fracking may harm are waters, what chemicals are used to store this propaganda hype
    since climate is a concerned and the latest from the Gore camp the future holds no snow for us in the sierras, hence no water for us poor taxpaying folks
    Hummmmmm seems them ther hydroelecdams may have a porpuse
    THE PD belongs on the racks at the checkout stand

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  12. Terry says:

    Skippy and Brown Act Jack,
    Don’t you read? The county is not paying for this thing other than for the EIR ($150,000). This will be a public private arrangement, meaning that the private company did the analysis and knows that it pencils out. The county will either resale that power at a profit, or will contract the power under community choice aggregation.

    This is a great way to do it. It is a great way for our county to become more energy independent. Competition is a good thing. PG&E is a monopoly that has you paying through the nose for ever increasing energy cost.

    I am mystified by the comments here by those who have no clue about energy, solar or just plain good business sense.

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  13. Skippy says:

    Typical Big Govt wisdom. Pay far too much for an unneeded item just to purchase the votes of gullible greenies.
    I vote yes; go ahead and buy it.
    Heck, buy ten of them!
    Anything to hasten the inevitable financial collapse of the #1 most fiscally insane State.
    After the dust clears we can get about the business of business; the only true creator of wealth and prosperity.

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  14. brown act Jack says:

    Where is the cost benefit analysis for this thing?
    $100 million dollars to put in a solar electric plant?
    And at the end of 20-30 years another $200,000,000 to replace it.
    And you think that this will be cheaper than buying from PGandE.

    Oh someone will make money on it, but it won’t be the airport!

    Prove it is financially self supporting and cheaper than PGandE

    Don’t give me that stuff about you will save money today as you will be goingj into long term debt and will have to pay back a hell of a lot more than the original cost, but, hey, it will be from
    government grants and subsidies and that doesn’t cost the citizens anything, does it?

    All government money is free!

    And you wonder why the economy and the government is broke!

    And what happens if the company goes bankrupt and who takes all the useless gear away!

    Oh, it is green power, paid for by the government and we will protect the enviroment with someone else’s money

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