RICHMOND >> San Rafael-based MCE celebrated the successful completion of a 60-acre solar farm — one of the largest in the state — in Richmond on Wednesday, a few days ahead of Earth Day.
The 10.5-megawatt solar system is expected to produce 22,000 megawatt-hours per year of pollution-free electricity, enough energy to power more than 3,900 homes and eliminate 3,234 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Some 341 workers were employed building the system, and 45 percent of those workers were Richmond residents.
MCE, the joint powers authority formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, made the initial investment in time and money necessary to get the project off the ground and partnered with sPower, based in Salt Lake City, and the city of Richmond to complete the project. sPower financed the project and owns it; MCE will purchase the electricity produced at the farm and retains the option to purchase the solar farm in seven years.
On Wednesday morning, MCE employees and other key players gathered at the project, which is built atop a remediated Chevron Corp. brownfield site.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day. The timing of this is really terrific,” said Supervisor Kate Sears, who heads MCE’s board of directors.
The project actually started producing electricity in December; the celebration was delayed in hopes of better weather.
MCE’s chief executive Dawn Weisz began her remarks by noting that a significant record was set on March 4.
“That day at 12:58 in the afternoon half of California’s energy demand across the state was served by solar projects,” Weisz said, “just like the one we’re looking at today.
“The following morning another solar record was set when solar production hit 10,411 megawatts,” Weisz said. “It goes to show that new solar projects are really leading California away from fossil fuel dependency, although we may not notice it in our day-to-day activities.”
Richmond’s Mayor Tom Butt said the solar farm project, dubbed Solar One, was made possible due to negotiations between Richmond and Chevron involving Chevron’s desire to initiate a $1 billion refinery modernization project. As a result of those negotiations, Chevron agreed to lease the land to MCE for $1 per year.
Sears said Butt’s leadership was key both in Richmond’s decision to become a member of MCE and in the initiation of Solar One. When Richmond joined MCE in June 2012, the authority consisted of Marin County and Marin’s 11 municipalities. Since then, MCE has grown rapidly. It now has 33 community members and more than 450,000 individual customers.
MCE’s other members include: Napa and Contra Costa counties as well as Concord, Walnut Creek, Pittsburg, San Ramon, San Pablo, Benicia, El Cerrito, American Canyon, Calistoga, Lafayette, the town of Napa, Saint Helena, Yountville, Pinole, Oakley, Moraga, Martinez and Danville.
Richmond’s town council initially mandated that 50 percent of the workers hired to build the solar farm be Richmond residents.
“The success of solar projects, and the Solar One project in particular, is due in part to the local buy-in from the community,” Butt said. “This is facilitated when local labor is involved in the project.”
Ultimately, however, 45 percent of the 341 workers hired were Richmond residents.
“The only reason we didn’t reach our goal is we ran out of local electricians,” Butt said. “The project initiated a career path for a lot of young people who are now out working in the industry.”
One of the reasons environmentalists in Marin County fought to create MCE is that they believed that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was moving too slowly to develop renewable energy sources.
Weisz said the big difference between MCE and investor-owned utilities such as PG&E is that from the outset MCE exceeded the state requirement for sourcing a certain percentage of its electricity from renewable sources.
Weisz said Wednesday that 56 percent of MCE’s electricity comes from renewable sources. PG&E announced in February that 33 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources — three years ahead of the state’s deadline.
In most cases, MCE has stimulated development of projects by agreeing to purchase a certain amount of electricity at a specified price over the next 20 to 25 years. Marin projects have included 1-megawatt solar projects at Novato’s Cooley Quarry, San Rafael airport and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. MCE’s largest local project, however, is a 3.6-megawatt biogas project at Redwood Landfill in Novato.
MCE also offers customers the option of purchasing “deep green” electricity that comes from 100 percent renewable sources by paying about a penny per kilowatt-hour premium. Half of the premium is placed in a local renewable energy development fund to help build projects like Solar One. There is currently about $153,000 in that fund.
Weisz said Wednesday, “I’d like to give my deepest appreciation to our deep green customers. This is our first project to benefit from the deep green fund, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
Marin-based energy authority celebrates completion of giant solar farm, by Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, April 18, 2018.