Downey to install solar panels at six civic buildings

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By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer

DOWNEY — With climate change a growing concern, the city plans to save on electrical costs and go solar in the coming years.

The City Council Aug. 10 approved a 25-year agreement with CEG/Onyx Development Group to install and operate solar paneling and battery energy storage systems on six municipal buildings: City Hall, the Downey Police Station, the Downey City Library and the Downey Civic Theatre, all in the Civic Center area and the Columbia Memorial Space Center, and the Barbara J. Riley Senior Center.

The vote, after a public hearing, was 4-0, with Mayor Claudia Frometa absent, a city clerk spokesperson said.

The Onyx firm will lease rooftop or carport space at the facilities from the city, install the solar equipment and generate electricity which it will sell to the city at a lower rate than currently paid Southern California Edison, said Public Works Director Delfino R. Consunji in a report to the council.

“Total energy costs savings from these upgrades is estimated at $150,000 the first year and about $10 million over the 25-year agreement,” he said.

Installation is expected to start in about four months and take about 10 months to complete.

“Informational display monitors will be set up in the City Hall, the library and the Columbia Memorial Space Center to allow for public viewing of real time tracking of solar energy production, energy savings and corresponding environmental benefits,” Consunji said.

The completed project will provide 1.61 megawatts of clean, renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of 5 million vehicle driven miles, the report said.

The city will not need to make any upfront investment in the system, but will use a $1 million community development block grant for the senior center.

Consunji said the total cost of the project is estimated at $8.8 million, which Downey will repay with planned energy savings and the CDBG grant.

He noted that city staff has been working with a private firm, Wildan Energy, and some solar providers for the past two years to prepare for the long-term energy-saving plan.

Staff went out for bids in August 2020 and selected CEO/Onyx from a field of four bidders. The firm has installed solar panels in a number of cities as well as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the report said.

“Now that the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of energy efficiency upgrades have been implemented, and in an effort to use more renewable energy and further reduce the city’s annual energy costs, staff has proposed the solar project as recommended in the city’s Energy Action Plan, adopted in 2015,” Consunji said.

He was referring to recent upgrades such as replacing all interior and exterior lighting at city facilities with energy-saving LED fixtures and an agreement last year with Edison to replace with LED bulbs in 4,400 street lights owned by the utility company.

In addition, the city has replaced heating and air conditioning units with more efficient ones, replaced the old tar and gravel roof with a roof cooling system at City Hall, the library and police station; and replaced old pumps with more efficient ones for groundwater wells.

“Those actions have saved the city an estimated $300,000 a year in electric costs,” Consunji said.

“The 1.61 megawatts of solar energy at the six sites will generate a total of 2,794,600 kilowatt hours a year. In addition, the four battery energy storage sites will hold a total of 750 kilowatts or 2,500 kilowatt-hours,” he added.

The storage systems will be located at City Hall, the Police Station, the Downey Civic Theatre and the senior center along with the solar panels.

Solar canopies will provide shade and additional lighting at night. The storage systems will provide more power if needed, Consunji said in his report.

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