City celebrates sun-powered center

Taking advantage of the longest day of the year, Costa Mesa on Monday celebrated the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Neighborhood Community Center.

Costa Mesa entered into a power purchase agreement with Foster City, Calif.-based SolarCity, which provided the equipment and installed the panels at no cost. In exchange, Costa Mesa will pay SolarCity for the power the solar panels generate.

The solar panels can generate enough power to provide energy for 30 households, said Khanh Nguyen, a Costa Mesa building official.

"Whatever generates from the solar panels we don't have to pay Edison, we pay SolarCity, so we save energy," Nguyen said.

"This is a great financing tool for the city to use because they don't have to put money upfront, and they get the benefits right away," said Jim Cahill, SolarCity regional director for Southern California. "Five years ago, people were worried about whether the panels are reliable, whether they will produce the energy they want, and now the only question seems to be, 'How they are going to finance it?'"

The installation marks Costa Mesa's first photovoltaic project, which emerged from measures the City Council took in 2007 to support energy-efficient operations and projects, said Tom Hatch, assistant city manager.

The Sustainable Municipal Green Policy requires city operations and projects to be energy-efficient and encourages businesses to take the same steps.

The solar panels are expected to provide about 65% of the power the city needs to operate the community center, located at 1845 Park Ave.

Southern California Edison will continue to provide energy for the rest of the power the community center needs, Nguyen said.

Costa Mesa will pay SolarCity 13.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the energy it uses from the solar panels, versus the 14.5 cents it pays per kilowatt hour to Edison.

"It sounds like a little bit, but it adds up over the course of time," Cahill said.

The city expects to save $3,400 in the first year and about $154,000 over the 15-year lease agreement with SolarCity.

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