Author: Jake Steele
Occidental should receive the final building permits for its solar array project by the end of next month, according to recent reports after a summer of back-and-forth deliberations between the city and the College. Once it is given the permits, the College will begin construction on the project as soon as possible. The construction should not last longer than six months, according to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada. The project has a total projected cost of seven million dollars, but the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) would pay for half of the cost after its completion. It is estimated that the solar arrays will provide 250,000 dollars in savings per year, according to Tranquada. The College worried that they would miss the deadline to receive the city’s rebate because of the city’s slow permitting process, but DWP’s decision to extend the deadline by three years alleviated the concerns, according to President Veitch. The three-and-a-half million dollars the College will be accountable for is going to be covered under a plan proposed by Chief Financial Officer Mike Groaner. Trustees accepted the plan, which calls for borrowing money to be paid back over 15 years. Getting government approval for the project was a two-step process. The lack of special zoning for colleges requires that Occidental abide by residential zoning construction standards, necessitating land use approval for the solar array. Health and safety questions had to be thoroughly vetted and the administration has had to work closely with the Eagle Rock and Highland Park communities to gain support. College representatives went to numerous homeowner association and neighborhood council meetings. The solar array will take up a considerable amount of space and needs to be southern facing in order to have maximum sun exposure throughout the day. It will also have to connect to the electrical grid easily. Fiji and the upper soccer field parking lot were chosen as the array site because of space and direction, and there is already an electrical maintenance area at the edge of the parking lot. The array would be impractical to install over most roofs for reasons of cost. Some of the panels will serve as parking lot carports with minimum heights of eight feet and maximum heights of 15 feet. The rest would be placed on the slope of Mt. Fiji that faces the soccer field. About a quarter of the array would be on the parking lot, the rest on the hill. The panels would be fenced in and only two to three feet above the ground. Many in the community were concerned the solar rays could be an eye sore for the campus and surrounding community. Professor Amy Lyford and Associate Professor Mary Beth Heffernan, from the Occidental Art History and Visual Arts department, and local design firm Lettuce pushed for the array to be thought of as land art. “The hillside array is a sweeping curve that hugs the topography of the hillside — the panels will be just two to three feet off the ground — and it actually looks cool,” Tranquada said. “It is an innovative design that combines science, engineering and art in a way that directly addresses aesthetic concerns about ground-mounted solar arrays.” Another issue with the solar panel project is potential glare. Physics Professor Dan Snowden-Ifft performed calculations to find where glare would occur to try to minimize reflections on Norris residents and Occidental neighbors. He found that in June and July there would be early morning glare on these residences that will last a couple of minutes. Snowden-Ifft has played a large role throughout the project. He had solar panels installed at his personal residence in South Pasadena and has been an advocate for them at Occidental. He began his lobbying two years ago, after joining the College’s sustainability committee. Snowden-Ifft also chaired a solar subcommittee that included former physics professor Adrian Hightower, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Michael Stephens, Director of UEPI Mark Vallianatos and others. With encouragement from the sustainability committee and administration officials, the subcommittee heard presentations from seven different installers over the summer of 2009. The subcommittee decided to go with SunPower panels and Martifer Solar as the installer. SunPower panels were chosen because they have the highest efficiency of any solar panel of their kind. Employees, students, families of students and alumni will have an opportunity to purchase solar panels themselves with a significant discount. SunPower is offering 40 cents/watt with a maximum of 2000 dollars off of installation for personal solar panels. All families and small businesses located in Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington and Highland Park will also be eligible. Contact professor Snowden-Ifft (email@example.com) or visit www.sunpowercorp.com/asp/occidental for more information.
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