Rooftop Solar Panels Uncertain at Point

City of Alameda - Roofs on new buildings planned for Alameda Point will be able to handle solar panels. It remains unclear whether the panels will be installed.

Rooftop Solar Panels Uncertain at Point

More than 24 new residential and commercial buildings are proposed for construction at the 68-acre Site A project at Alameda Point, which was approved unanimously by the Planning Board Monday. All the buildings will be solar ready. But according to Joe Ernst, the project leader for Alameda Point Partners, there is no guarantee there will ever be any solar panels on the rooftops.

Ernst blames the currently underfunded rebate incentive system and a lack of financing vehicles with tax incentives, which can leave developers having to absorb the full cost of the photovoltaic solar panels. He said it could take anywhere from seven to 10 years to offset the cost of the solar panels through power savings if his company had to fund them out of pocket.

The solar panel rebate programs offered by the state of California and Alameda Municipal Power lag far behind the ambitious goals recently launched by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown’s executive order on greenhouse gas reduction, issued on April 29, followed through on goals that he outlined a few months earlier in his inaugural address. 

“I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles,” Brown said in his speech.

But at Alameda Point, the inconsistency between the governor’s goals and the programs to implement them stand in stark contrast. The proposed 68-acre Site A project next to the Seaplane Lagoon is left wanting for solar panels. But a few feet away at Hangar 41, Wrightspeed is preparing to manufacture fuel-efficient electric powertrains for trucks with the aid of $5.8 million in grant funding from the California Energy Commission.

In order to limit the onsite production of power, which cuts into a power company’s bottom line, rate structures for buying and selling power from rooftop solar producers can be skewed in favor of power companies. This, in turn, can effect decisions on investing in rooftop solar. One of the hurdles is right here in Alameda.

Alameda’s Public Utilities Board recently held a workshop on rate structure alternatives known as Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Feed in Tariff (FIT) but held off on making any decision. Rooftop solar proponents favor an expansion of NEM.

A nonprofit in Palo Alto overcame obstacles to installing rooftop solar with a combination of independent financing and various incentives. In early 2014, the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center completed a rooftop solar project on its campus financed through a power purchase agreement and took advantage of available incentives. It required no capital costs to the center. 

The company that packaged the deal, THiNKnrg, owns the solar panels. It will deliver electricity at 4 cents a kilowatt, half the current energy rate, saving the center an estimated $1.5 million over the 20-year contract. The deal covers 12 buildings with 1,840 solar panels, which generate .5 megawatts of power, it is Palo Alto’s second largest rooftop solar system.

The rooftops at Alameda’s Site A project will be designed to accept the weight of solar panels. Conduits, pathways, switchgear and metering will be designed into the buildings. Although this new construction project is a prime candidate to turn on the lights with solar on the first day, it’s unlikely without the support of state incentives and Alameda Municipal Power.

Richard Bangert hosts the online blog Alameda Point Environmental Report.



I think the notion that a 7 to 10 year pay back is too long of a time horizon for this developer. That said, Solar panels that put power back into the grid are not really what is needed in Alameda. We are an island, a fact which seems to need repeating over and over, ad nauseum. What we need is independence form the grid, which is finally possible using Elan Musk's new power wall.