The sun was shining high in 2015, the day Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his ambitious plan for San Diego to go solar: Hundreds of photovoltaic panels would be installed on top of public buildings from Carmel Valley to San Ysidro.
The project would drive Faulconer’s continuing efforts to make the city government more innovative and efficient, the Mayor’s Office news release said — and save tens of millions of dollars to boot.
“This is about using our infrastructure to its fullest potential and using public resources to save taxpayer money,” Faulconer said then. “Libraries, recreation centers and police and fire stations are hubs for community engagement, and now they will be hubs for green energy.”
Under the program Faulconer announced in October 2015, the city would allow SunEdison to develop the solar panels on top of city buildings and in other public spaces.
Once the equipment generated electricity, officials agreed, the city would purchase the power at a contracted rate that is lower than what it pays San Diego Gas & Electric.
The mayor’s original estimate had the city saving up to $22 million over the first two decades, with construction complete by the end of 2016.
But the mayor’s bet on renewable power has yet to generate even a spark of solar electricity.
Instead, the effort was hobbled by a bankruptcy declaration many experts saw coming, a spate of canceled contracts and delays that stymied construction plans for nearly two years.
City officials say the first two of 25 long-planned projects have just started construction and will be completed this year. They are solar panels to be installed on top of the Carmel Valley Recreation Center and a fire department repair facility on Kearny Villa Road.
They also say the delays allowed the city to negotiate a better rate for the electricity it eventually will buy, and they may collect damages from SunEdison for energy savings it missed out on under the initial agreement.
“We’re thrilled to be moving forward with more solar installations at city buildings, which will save millions in energy costs and help meet our long-term goal of using 100 percent renewable energy citywide,” mayoral spokesman Craig Gustafson said in a statement.
The first six project agreements were terminated by the city last year, after SunEdison filed for bankruptcy. City and company officials had previously said the court filing would not affect the solar installations.
Those agreements are now being re-bid, so it is not clear when those projects may be completed or even when construction will begin.
The 19 other sites are moving ahead under a subcontractor, Onyx Renewables, the city said.
The most current installation schedule calls for five additional projects to begin construction by Aug. 15, with completion dates before the end of November. Ten other sites will begin by the end of the month and two others will start in September.
Before the end of 2017, the city expects all 19 sites to be generating lower-cost electricity. Combined with its existing portfolio of solar projects, the city expects to have a total generation capacity of 6 megawatts.
In California, a single megawatt of solar electricity can power 250 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
At the time Faulconer reached the agreement with SunEdison, in November 2015, the company already was struggling financially.
By early 2016, SunEdison announced it was borrowing $725 million in order to restructure it debt. When it filed for bankruptcy that April, a company spokesman told The San Diego Union-Tribune it would meet its obligations.
“These projects are expected to move forward as planned,” SunEdison spokesman John Lamontagne said then. “We have every intention of meeting the commitments we made with the city of San Diego.”
City officials have yet to calculate the amount of any damages they might collect from the contractor.
“Liquidated damages are determined at the end of construction, as is done with all public works contracts,” the Environmental Services Department said in a statement. “This way the final change order accounts for all damages resulting from construction.”
The city could wrestle a significant amount of cash out of the contractor — perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars — if it enforces the liquidated damages provisions of its agreements as aggressively as possible.
7 August 2017 5:26 pm
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